Thompson digs in to 2014 budget

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Thompson - posted Tue., Apr. 9, 2013

The Thompson Board of Finance settled in for a long night of number crunching on April 4. They were joined by a room full of residents eager to hear how members would whittle down a proposed 2014 budget calling for an 8.64-percent mill increase. Calling the budget a horrendous challenge, Chair Raymond Faucher, Jr., repeatedly reminded fellow members and town officials that everyone would have to share in the sacrifices.

Some of the expenses to Thompson are set in stone. Fuel tanks at the garage must come out of the ground by 2015, according to state mandates. By 2017, three more tanks have to be removed from school grounds. The town is also assessed $36,242 yearly by the Northeastern District Department of Health. The non-negotiable, per-resident-fee ensures state mandates regarding public health issues are enforced.

There are uncertainties as well. No one is sure of the exact impact the Affordable Care Act will have on the town. The governor's proposed budget is calling for increases to funds that should shore up the town's paving and chip sealing funds, but without a finalized state budget, those numbers aren't firm. And the board didn't have enough information to make decisions on whether to fund an ambulance and pay for staff, whether to increase the building officer's pay from 25 to 32 hours per week, or to upgrade the town hall's security system.

Chopped from the proposed budget were funds for certain repairs to the library, some park improvements, telephone and security upgrades at the town hall, and money set aside for each of the town's volunteer fire departments. Faucher said the fire department cuts would be back on the table if necessary.

A request for $87,000 for the purchase of an ambulance and a staffing allowance to insure coverage when volunteers were least likely to be able to respond is still in discussion. Community Fire Department currently has a 2005 and 2008 ambulance with 54,700 and 32,400 miles respectively. EMT's receive $30 for working 5 a.m. to 9 a.m., $45 for 9 a.m to 4 p.m., and $22.50 for 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. They receive $20 for each call they respond to. “People can't live off that,” said supervisor Ashley Zakrzewski. “I fear that if we don't get assistance with staffing, we'll run into problems and the people who will suffer are the residents,” she said. Faucher asked Community Fire to provide audited numbers at the next BOF meeting.

The board will continue to work on trimming the budget in the weeks ahead. “There are more cuts we can make,” said member Paul Dery.

Brian Lynch agreed, saying he thought the board could find another half mil to cut. “We still have a lot of stuff out there,” he said.

Resident Sally White said she hopes the budget won't increase the mil rate for taxpayers. “When the town raises taxes, some homeowners end up delaying their own vital repairs,” she said. “And while many of us want to conserve open space, increased taxation makes it hard to retain family property for future generations. With foreclosures, high unemployment, and so many taxpayers on fixed incomes, a zero increase would be  logical and respectful.”

Finance Director Michael Martin expects two to three more budget workshops will be held before a final budget goes to town meeting on May 20. The next meeting will be held on May 11 at 7 p.m. at the library.

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