EXETER—Last Thursday evening, the Exeter Town Council held a special public hearing on its proposed budget for the 2012 fiscal year and it appears that every member of the public that attended seemed to support the proposal as written.
So, at the very least, three local residents are on board so far.
In what was supposed to be the first step towards answering any and all budget-related questions before next month’s Financial Town Meeting, the Exeter Town Council discussed to a largely empty room the reasoning behind a proposal that calls for an increase of $328,980, or 2.68 percent, to a budget of just over $12.6 million for the 2011-2012 year.
The majority of that proposal, as explained Thursday, is Exeter’s contribution to the school district budget—a total of $10,365,920, or 82.2 percent of every tax dollar spent. Apart from a $285,000 increase for the first of three years of planned improvements to roads around town, there’s not much of a difference from the 2010-2011 budget.
Thursday’s public hearing, a 35-minute affair, covered some of the more glaring items in the proposed budget.
First was discussion on a planned 439 percent increase in funds for the transfer station.
Local resident Harry Armen questioned why there was such a dramatic increase in funding for that line item this year. The proposed budget calls for a $76,282.41 increase over last year.
Town Council Vice President William Monahan answered Armen’s question, explaining that the increase to a total of $93,647 came about because last year the town used previously accumulated funds to run the transfer station. Now, he said, those funds are gone and, short of raising sticker fees from $75 to $168, the town simply doesn’t have enough money to run it as currently budgeted.
The next item discussed was the lack of funding for state police protection for the town of Exeter.
At a recent Town Council meeting, two officers from the state police were on hand to discuss the possibility of the state police expanding their presence in Exeter.
“They wanted to open a dialogue since it failed before,” said councilman Calvin Ellis.
The problem was, they lacked any specific information as to what the extra protection would mean. In previous proposals, the state police have offered to staff one to three dedicated officers to the region but had no specifics as to what it would cost to do today.
So, in creating this year’s budget, the council left funds for increased state police protection out.
Since the state police are sworn to protect Exeter, the real question is whether or not the citizens of Exeter have a desire to pay for additional protection.
“I think that we ought to pay some kind of compensation but one trooper isn’t going to cover the town of Exeter,” Ellis said. “Neither will a 10-12 person force like West Greenwich has. If given the option, I would rather have state troopers (but) we need the figure.”
Town council assistant Ken Findlay emphasized Thursday that just because there’s a 2.67 percent increase in the tax levy on the books in this budget proposal, that doesn’t necessarily mean there will be an increase in the amount of taxes Exeter residents pay.
With an increase in the amount of tangible taxes collected, and the tax roll not due to be certified until June, there’s still time for figures to change and tax rates to go up or down, based on the amount of revenue collected.
Rounding out the discussions Thursday were questions about the proposed Capital Improvement on roads and discussions about the town’s contribution to retirement funds and proposed three-percent salary increase for employees.
The big question regarding the project to fix town roads was where the money was coming from.
The proposed budget by the council calls for $285,000 for the first of a three-year project, but $175,000 of those funds are slated to come from a surplus the town collected from funds given by FEMA after last year’s flooding.
Because public works employees factored in repairs during their normal hours, it saved the town a substantial amount of money.
Now those funds will be used to repair/maintain some of the most damaged roads in Exeter as part of a public works project.
Both Ellis and Findlay explained Thursday that this proposal, the sixth draft overall, is an attempt at keeping costs down as much as possible and being as conservative as possible with expected revenues.
One way that has worked, the council explained, was that the town’s employees are all part of a retirement fund where Exeter contributes five percent of what employees make into an account for their future use upon retirement. This fund is separate from any state pension plan and ensures the town has no long-term liabilities in that regard.
At the same time, the council says it’s important to treat the town’s employees fairly and that’s why a three-percent salary increase is being proposed in this year’s budget.
“In just about every category we’re the lowest paid in the state and a three-percent increase won’t even make it close to the next lowest paid,” Ellis said. “No one seems to focus on the fact that our staff is underpaid and my hope is we don’t lose good staff members to higher paying positions.”
The Exeter Town Council will meet on May 25 to adopt the 2011-2012 proposed budget. Members of the public will then get their chance to vote on the proposal, line by line, at the Town Financial Meeting next month.