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Paris board sends budget back
PARIS — The proposed $3.4 million expense portion of the Paris budget was rejected by the Board of Selectmen on Monday, after two of four board members in attendance indicated that they would not vote for it in its current form.
Selectman Ted Kurtz wanted the budget reduced by about $50,000, while Selectwoman Jean Smart wanted to add $15,000 to a particular line item.
Selectman Ken West said that he thought the budget was good as presented.
"I'm going to be in the middle. I'd like to accept it," said West. "... the Budget Committee, I think, did a good job of bringing it in."
Board Chair Ray Glover also asked for a change in allocation that would neither increase nor decrease the budget.
The board tabled the matter to give Town Manager Phil Tarr a chance to make some changes to accommodate its feedback.
Kurtz said that he was opposed to the budget, which he maintains is not flat. Other board members have argued that the budget is flat.
The members disagree on whether a mid-year addition to the budget, made to fund a switch to a paid firefighter staff, should be included.
"Last year the budget was $3,346,000. This year the budget is $3,398,000. The selectboard voted for a flatline budget for the town. I will let other people on the board say what they intended by that. What I meant was, last year the budget was [the lesser amount], and that's what I voted for. ... They have chosen to call it a flatline budget, but it's not."
"I am not going to vote for this budget either, for some different reasons," said Smart.
Smart said that her main problem was the amount being used to fund the Norway Paris Solid Waste Board (NPSW). The board requested $275,000, but the budget committee recommended an allocation of $260,000.
Smart said that failing to fund the NPSW was tantamount to the town's not fulfilling its legal obligations on the joint venture with Norway.
"We have a legal contract with the Town of Norway for our solid waste entity," said Smart. "... [NPSW] took a good long hard look at their budget. They reduced some costs, but they also included in their budget ... monies that they should have requested from the towns that they did not request. ... If we do not raise that additional $15,000 this year, we will have to raise it next year and, on top of that, more money. I think if we're worried about the future, we shouldn't put off paying for a legitimate expense obligation that we have. ... I think we're crazy if we don't raise that money, because we'll have to raise it next year. We won't have a choice."
Tarr suggested adding $15,000 to the line item from elsewhere in the budget, but Glover said that he would not vote for a budget that included an additional $15,000 for the NPSW. There was also question as to where in the budget the $15,000 would come from.
Both Kurtz and Smart questioned the $180,000 purchase of a new truck for the highway department, which Tarr said is needed to retire an older truck with 145,000 miles on it.
"You guys can debate that, but I don't want to take it out of the budget. If you guys take it out, that's fine," said Tarr.
"I question whether or not we can afford right now the purchase of that new truck," said Smart. "... Could we buy a good used truck for a lot less money?"
"You could always buy a used truck," said Tarr. However, he cautioned, "We use trucks very heavily. When you put 15 tons of plow equipment on the front, and another 15 tons of sand and sander on the back, that's not light-duty. We wear trucks out fast. Any municipality wears out trucks fast."
Tarr said that Norway recently switched from purchasing used trucks to new ones, because the repair costs on used vehicles had not proven to be cost effective. Tarr has said in the past that trucks tend to last 15 years.
Kurtz asked for documentation that would demonstrate the fiscal wisdom of the truck purchase.
"I just want something so that I can be satisfied economically that this is a sound thing for the town to do," said Kurtz, a sentiment which Smart agreed with.
Tarr said he would provide such information.
The recommendations of both the board and the budget committee will be presented to voters during a town meeting in June.
Despite his criticisms, Kurtz said that he was pleased that the town took a top-down approach to the budget, in which town leaders set a goal that departments tried to meet, as opposed to a baseline approach, which he said generally involves making small upward adjustments to existing department budgets.
However, Kurtz said that the approach wasn't fully successful because of what he sees as a $50,000 increase.
"If we are to control our long-term destiny, rather than being controlled by it, we should adopt a top-down approach to the budget process," said Kurtz.
Kurtz praised the smaller town of Buckfield as an example of a successful top-down approach, which he contrasted with Paris. In Buckfield, the board set a goal of reducing the budget by 10 percent, or $160,000.
"What happened is, the selectboard said for the town, 'we want you to cut 160 [thousand]' and the town employees and the staff went out and cut it by 173. We asked for a flatline budget, and what we get is a budget that's $50,000 more."
Tarr said that a revised budget would be available by Thursday.
Kurtz said that he felt that an added bonus to tabling the budget would be to give absent board member Lloyd Herrick an opportunity to give input and cast a vote.