Spending cuts top mandate

By PATRICK MEIGHAN, Telegraph Staff
Published: Thursday, Apr. 27, 2006

MERRIMACK – Selectmen on Wednesday didn’t cut the $1,469,334 from town spending mandated by voters.

Instead, they cut $1,729,319, and then put $219,985 back into the budget to pay for expected increases in fuel costs as the price of gasoline climbs toward $3 a gallon and beyond.

They also put back $40,000 to fund the transformation July 1 when the five-member board of selectmen becomes a seven-member town council, the result of a charter voters approved in the April 11 election.

“The town manager and the staff did all the work,” selectmen’s Chairman Dave McCray said at the close of the three-hour special meeting to pare the budget.

“There were no layoffs,” McCray said. “There were no cuts to kids’ programs . . . Summer camp did not close.

“The sky didn’t fall.”

The cuts to the 2006-07 town operating budget were needed because voters on April 11 approved a town operating budget that had been reduced by $1.5 million at the deliberative session in March. The budget totaled $25,180,319, the same amount voters approved in 2005.

McCray, who became selectmen’s chairman after an anti-tax wave in the election also changed the makeup of the board, guided the board in a department-by-department examination of town spending. He worked from a spread sheet of cuts proposed by Town Manager Tim Tieperman and town department heads.

Calling the spreadsheet a guide and a tool, the majority of selectmen accepted many of the recommendations but rejected others. Beyond those, McCray suggested several broad-based cuts that were backed by the majority of the board.

One was to cut overtime in all departments by 12 percent, for a savings of $121,920. Another was to pare 15 percent off discretionary spending for such things as office supplies, equipment maintenance, dues, consultant fees, advertising and miscellaneous expenses.

That bought a savings of $191,742.

McCray also proposed cutting the amount the town spends for outside services by 7.5 percent, for a savings of $16,388.

Selectmen cut proposals for several new positions, such as an assistant town manager, saving $106,426 in salary and benefits costs, and an additional public works engineer, eliminating $74,015 from the budget.

However, the board retained an assistant finance administrator after Tieperman explained that he would be merging his office with Finance Administrator Paul Micali. The assistant would report to Micali but be a purchasing agent who could assist both Tieperman and Micali, the town manager said.

“The town manager needs staff and tools in order to do his job properly,” Selectman Betty Spence said in supporting the new position.

Selectmen also agreed to forgo the monthly stipend they receive, saving $12,000.

Throughout the evening, Selectman Tom Koenig frequently found himself on the losing end of 3-1 votes. The board is one member short, although a new member is expected to be appointed to fill a vacancy when the board meets tonight.

Koenig is the other remaining member of the previous board of selectmen, on which McCray frequently found himself on the wrong end of 4-1 votes.

At the beginning of the meeting, Koenig moved to accept all of the town’s manager’s recommendations for the cuts. When that failed, he opposed McCray’s broad-based reductions.

Koenig said he couldn’t see how McCray could justify an across-the-board cut in overtime when some union contracts call for overtime and departments pay overtime so they don’t have to hire additional workers.

Selectman Mike Malzone cast the only dissenting vote on cutting $25,549 from the library’s budget. Town officials had asked the library to make a 5.66 percent reduction, which would have totaled about $75,000, but library directors instead offered only a 1.9 percent cut.

When library trustees Chairwoman Pat Heinrich said the budget already is below last year’s and cutting more would hurt services, McCray replied that voters will remember that in future elections when the library asks for funding.

Patrick Meighan can be reached at 594-6518 or pmeighan@nashuatelegraph.com.