Litchfield Deliberative Session Results in Little Change to Proposed Town Articles

February 6, 2015
 

by Mike Falzone

For those who aren’t involved in town politics or budgets, Saturday’s Litchfield Town Deliberative session was the unveiling of the proposed 2015 town budget.

The process begins in summer with the selectmen meeting with town department heads to iron out projections and needs to bring to the budget committee.

Over the course of two months in the fall, the budget committee and selectmen discuss each line item and debate the needs vs. wants, and final budget amounts.

Saturday’s presentation delivered the proposed budget at $5,232,478, up from $5,135,216 from 2014, a $225,070 increase over last year’s approved budget.  The budget represents a 4.49 percent increase.  About 40 people were in attendance to hear the presentation.

There were five areas of major increase over last year:

Police Administration, $119,376, which included the police contract approved last year, and a cruiser purchase.

Information Technology, $69,325 which represented an IT support contract, work which had up to now been done on a volunteer basis.

Personnel Administration, $25,391, which encased workers comp, social security, retirement, and a decline in health insurance costs.

Road Maintenance, $15,696, which was increased road repairs and salt purchases.

Assessing, $11,606, which was the fifth year of a five-year cycle.

Solid Waste, a decrease of $16,395 that resulted from a change in the way the town handles wood recycling.

There wasn’t much discussion about the budget other than the presentation by Budget Chairperson Cindy Coture, which passed without much fanfare, to be presented to voters on Election Day on March 10.

A total of 18 warrant articles were presented in addition to the budget, only nine of which had an immediate financial impact to voters.

Articles 2-4 centered on an overlay of a Multi-Family Dwelling district, impact fee changes, and Accessory Dwelling Unit changes.

Article 6 focused on road improvements and upcoming paving projects.  Litchfield has 77 miles of roads, and 16.71 miles of those roads are in need of repair.  The last few years, the town has been using highway block grant monies to catch up on road reclaiming and repaving, and has gotten on a more even schedule of repairs.

Litchfield lists 26 percent of its road in poor condition, and on a current cost basis, would need $4,636,905 to bring those roads to a good condition.

The five-year priority plan will cost the town an estimated $2.2 million.  The warrant article states:  “To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate the sum of $200,000 for the purpose of road pavement improvement projects.”  It is anticipated that these funds will be used toward the cost of repairs to Pinecrest Road and Blue Jay Way as well as other roads as necessary.

In addition to the $200,000, Litchfield will use $170,000 in highway block grant monies to make emergency repairs to McElwain and Woodburn drives, repave the remaining half of Stark Lane, rebuild a portion of Albuquerque Road, reclaim Robyn Road, shim 1,000 feet of Nesenkeag Drive, patch Page Road, and overlay Musquash Drive.  The rebuilding of Mike Lane, including major drainage repairs, is included.

The article anticipates reclaiming Pinecrest Road from Moose Hollow Road to Hillcrest Road, and reclaiming and repaving Blue Jay Way.

Article 7 targeted the replacement of the fire department’s airpacks.  The article is expected to be covered 90 percent by FEMA grants.  The current airpacks were manufactured in 2001 and have a 15-year life expectancy.  The remainder will be paid through grants, or from the town’s general fund, having no impact on the budget.

Article 8 proposed replacing a fire department utility vehicle for $20,000; Article 9 proposed repaving the old town hall/fire station parking lot for $70,000; Article 10 proposed replacing $12,970 in the Public Works Expendable Trust Funds, money that was used for the replacement of a baler in 2014; Article 11 proposed $7,500 for the purchase of a paint striping machine, allowing town employees to repaint portions of crossing, stop bars, and warning markings on town roads.

“The problem with adding town assets is that we have to maintain and house these things all year long, for use one to two weeks of the year,” explained Litchfield Budget Committee member Chris Pascussi.  “The next thing we’re going to need is a new building to house all the new tools and machines we buy.”

Article 12 proposed an extension of Albuquerque Avenue to a new intersection at Route 102, ending near Tabernacle Church.  The article seeks funds for planning, design, engineering and permitting for extending Albuquerque Avenue to a new intersection along NH Route 102.  This is the result of the approval of 2014 Article 19 directing the Board of Selectmen to bring forward an article to study alternatives and potential costs for a controlled intersection allowing access to Route 102.

The intersection of Page Road and Route 102 is a dangerous and busy intersection, and has property constraints that would prevent modernizing that intersection.  Some of the proposed land is owned by the Town of Litchfield, some of it is already intersected with Cutler Drive, and some would require use of land currently owned by NH DOT.

The proposal is for the engineers to complete design and permitting for the project to be construction ready.  Engineers estimate for the completion and building portion of the project are between $1.5 and $1.8 million.  The budget committee vote was 3-0-6 on the article, while selectmen supported the project with a vote of 4-0-0.

“I feel if you think the $1.5 million would pass in the future, then vote for the paperwork portion of the project.  I just can’t see supporting this,” commented Pascucci.

Article 13 addressed the requests the town gets annually from the many local and state agencies that provide services to the townspeople.  The selectmen and budget committee decided a couple years ago to bring these requests to the voters to see what they, in fact, supported.  The Human Service agencies include Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Home Health and Hospice Care, St Joseph’s Community Services (Meals on Wheels), Bridges and Community Council of Nashua.  This year’s stipend, if approved, would be $11,250.

Article 14 proposes:  “To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate the sum of $30,000 for implementation of the first phase of a revised employee wage plan, as approved by the Board of Selectmen in 2013, for non-union employees.”  The wage schedule for these employees has not been adjusted since 2010.  It is estimated that implementing this plan will take three years.  The anticipated cost is $90,000 when the plan is fully implemented, and adjusts for structural deficiencies of the town’s current wage plan.

“Many long-term employees are at the top of the current scale, and have no way of getting increases,” explained Selectman Frank Byron.

The factors the town uses to determine the current financial direction of revenue all seemed positive, which is trending better than it has in the past five years.

Article 15 focuses on Capital Reserve Fund management, Article 17 addresses the Budgeting for Lease/Purchases when the town buys new equipment, Article 18 establishes an Agricultural Commission, and Article 19 (by petition) proposes hiring a part-time cable coordinator, to be paid from the town’s Cable Revolving Fund.

Article 16 asks the voters, “Shall the Board of Selectmen present to next year’s annual meeting, an article adopting the provisions of RSA 32:5-b which could implement a tax cap whereby the Budget Committee shall not submit a recommended budget that increases the amount to be raised by local taxes, based on the prior fiscal year’s actual amount of local taxes raised, by more than a certain dollar amount or percentage?”

“I commend the selectmen on bringing this forward,” commented Bill Spencer.  “I only hope the school department follows suit!”

If all of the proposed warrant articles are approved by voters, the town portion of the tax rate would increase by .49 cents, jumping from $3.74 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $4.23.  For a home assessed at $400,000, their property tax bill would increase by nearly $200, according to town officials.

Voting day is March 10.  The Litchfield School District deliberative session will take place Feb. 7, 10 a.m. at Campbell High School.