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By PAUL J. SPETRINI
EXETERâThe Exeter Financial Town Meeting has, in years past, been a knock-down, drag-out affair of butting heads with lively personalities willing to hold debate for hours over even the slightest of increases in the townâs budget.
This year, the only thing voters couldnât agree on was just how quickly they wanted to get out of the annual gathering.
In a surprisingly harmonious Financial Town Meeting that lasted all of an hour and featured few disagreements and even less discussion, 64 voters from the town of Exeter approved a proposed 0.56-percent increase in the townâs tax levy for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, adopting a total budget of $12,690,085 for town and school services.
The amount was an increase of $70,706 but well under the maximum four-percent levy increase the Exeter Town Council could have asked for under state law.
âIt was even quicker than last year,â council member Raymond Morrissey said. âI was surprised at last yearâs meeting because I was coached on how much of a drag out it was going to be because a lot of people had a lot of concerns about the budget, but this year it went really smooth. I think the people came out and they voted and they voiced their opinions and everything turned out to be great for our town.â
âYou know, thereâs never a way to predict how many people will come to a Financial Town Meeting,â Council President Arlene Hicks said. âI am surprised there were so few people here. I always hope more of our voters will attend our Financial Town Meeting but maybe people saw the budget, saw the proposed increases and didnât have any problem with them.â
All told, there were 27 votes, covering a total of 80 resolutions, at Tuesday eveningâs meeting in the EWG High School auditorium. Fourteen of the votes were approved unanimously and of the 13 to not meet complete approval, nearly all were met with just one voice of dissent, from local resident Kim Ives.
âI think there are some particular needs that we need to do,â Morrisey said. âEverybodyâs pretty well on board with that.â
The most controversial topics at Tuesdayâs meeting revolved around a proposed increase for the director of public works and the amount of money given to the Exeter animal shelter and the townâs capital improvement program.
For the salary of the director of public works, a position currently held by Steve Mattscheck, the town was asking for a total of $59,165.75, or an increase of 10 percent from last yearâs budget.
That total, as explained in previous budget sessions, was to cover the town-wide two-percent pay bump all employees were given as a cost of living increase. The other eight percent was for increased compensation for Mattscheckâs new duties as the supervisor of the animal shelter.
A local resident who opposed the increase expressed concern for what he perceived as a lack of accountability in the positionâs time management and wondered how the town would track the work done if the director didnât âpunch a clock.â
The measure was passed with only one dissenter.
As for the animal shelter itself, Hicks addressed the public Tuesday to explain that the council was seeking a total increase of 5.02 percent for a total budget of $100,934.59 to pay for additional training and purchase equipment to house large animals that the shelter currently has no room for.
The measure was passed with only Ives dissenting.
Lastly, one local resident questioned the need for the department of public works to spend $50,000 for the purchase of a used bucket truck.
Council member William Monahan told the audience that, currently, the town borrows a similar truck, which is used for large maintenance items like loose trees on the road, from a neighboring community but, because it does not have one of its own, relevant projects could and have been delayed in the past because of scheduling issues.
The measure was passed with only one dissenter.
Following the final resolutions, the town voted, with just Ives dissenting, to adopt the 2012-2013 budget as proposed, ending the latest budget season.
Members of the town council saw the vote as validation for the work theyâve done over the last few months in keeping a potential increase as low as possible.
âWell, weâre pretty frugal,â Morrisey said. âIâm a fiscal conservative I feel and I think a lot of people are on board with me and the council. We worked on the budget and all of the entities that came forth and presented their budget, they kept it pretty well down. I donât think thereâs a greater need of overspending.â
âI appreciate all the folks being here that understand that the budget process is involved and itâs tedious,â council member Cal Ellis said. âOne thing that they should realize is that with the help of our finance department, we review every single line of the budget to make sure that itâs as accurately reflecting what we need to do as we possibly can so Iâm very pleased with the outcome and Iâm especially pleased with the number of people who stepped up to support what they see us doing. Itâs encouraging.â
For Hicks, the passing of the budget was a big relief.
âOh, certainly,â she said. âThe budget takes a long time to prepare. Iâm glad that itâs done, that it passed and now we know how much money we have to work with next year.â