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Flat budget, no wage increases in Paris
PARIS — The Board of Selectmen has set a goal of flatlining municipal expenditures, and freezing employee wages for the upcoming budget cycle.
The board voted 4-1 to support the measure, with Selectwoman Jean Smart opposing.
Based on the goal, the town's Budget Committee will draft a preliminary budget, which will eventually be reviewed by the board and presented to voters during a town meeting.
Selectman Ted Kurtz argued that flatlining the budget was the only way to prepare for a bleak financial future, while Smart said that she would rather see more information on the consequences of a budget freeze.
During a discussion at the board's Monday meeting, Ted Kurtz made dire predictions about the fiscal future of the town, and the nation.
"Five years from now, the American people are going to be ... working harder for less ... ," he said. "The dollar is not going to be worth as much as it is now. All of that translates into a lower standard of living."
Kurtz said that, against this backdrop, the town should make preparations.
"The fall is coming," he said. "People that want to spend money now are like being concerned about the deck chairs on the deck of the Titanic. ... We've got to push back our definition of essential services, because we're not going to be able to afford them."
Smart said that she didn't want to support a budget directive that could have unforeseen consequences.
"We need to enter into this carefully and thoughtfully by doing some research and finding out the consequences of choosing to flatline the budget," said Smart. "What will the consequences be, both positive and negative? What sections of the community will be affected, positively and negatively?"
The board also voted to set a goal of freezing employee wages for the year, a move which Town Manager Phil Tarr said could impact existing union contracts.
Kurtz said that on January 1, the board had declined to give Town Manager Phil Tarr a raise based on a position that they would not increase any employee salaries for the upcoming year.
In a memo to the board, Tarr wrote that "If it is your inclination to hold salaries at the current level, we will need your vote on this matter to form the basis of requesting that the union agree to reopen negotiations on salaries in the contract."
Selectmen Lloyd Herrick and Kenneth West expressed support for the wage freeze.
"As far as I'm concerned, salaries should take a freeze this year," said Herrick.
Kurtz said that he understood the impact on town employees.
"I know there are gonna be town employees that are hurting," said Kurtz. "But they have a job. There are people on the street that don't have a job."
Smart said that a flatlined budget could cost employees their jobs.
"Maybe flatlining the whole budget would mean that some of our employees would lose their jobs," she said. "I think we need to think very seriously."
Selectman Lloyd Herrick said that there could be a wide range of impacts on staff.
"Does it possibly mean losing their position in the town, or does it mean reduced hours, or does it mean a furlough day?" he said. "There's a whole host of possibilities out there."
Kurtz and Herrick initially advocated creating a budget that would allow for the possibility of reducing town expenditures, but Selectman Kenneth West objected.
"I know what's coming down the pike," said West. "The price of gas, diesel. Unless you cut back on some of the equipment, you ... can flatline it, but you can't reduce it."
Kurtz eventually made the motion "We set as a goal, flatline the budget and also freeze wages for all town employees this year."