2006-03-16 / Front Page

Town Council begins review of new budget

By Dotti Farrington

The three Town Council newcomers Tuesday spent more time suggesting items not included in the proposed town budget for next year than looking for ways to cut the administrative recommendations. Finding places to cut has been the usual approach to budgets in the past.

The session included an overview of all financial matters and a focus on town spending. The second budget session, slated for Tuesday, March 21, at 6 p.m. at the town library will focus on school spending. A third, and perhaps final session, is set for Thursday, March 23, to review capital spending needs.

Councilors Barbara Szepatowski, Michael Schnack, and William Kelly spoke on items individually, and sometimes jointly, that they thought needed attention. Concerns of the three arose after a tour of town facilities last spring. At that time, the three expressed horror, and this week, Szepatowski and Kelly repeated their surprise and shock over the extent of disrepair of so many town facilities.

In his first budget rounds since his January hiring, Town Administrator Bruce Keiser proposed funds for several building repairs in both operating and capital accounts, but one or more of the trio of councilors asked about items not funded for as much as they seemed to expect. Keiser based his budgeting after discussing needs with his staff.

Szepatowski referred to building conditions that represent demoralization for workers. She said conditions "are scary. The (line items) are not enough."

Schnack focused on conditions of town boats, as interwoven with reports of police plans and needs for Homeland Security related patrols. Council Vice President Julio DiGiando suggested that the police and harbormaster boat needs should be shared. Schnack said at least one boat cited in the discussion "was never seaworthy. It should be off the table" and not considered an option.

Keiser was directed to gather more data about town boats and about grants used for various town programs.

Szepatowski and Kelly led other forays, including one for a review of the plan to decrease funds for grant writing; and for adding money, up to $3,750, to immediately replace police "bullet proof" vests because of possibilities that the 2002 supply of vests being used may be ineffective. The police proposed that they would wait for the usual five-year life of the vests to expire, pending a lawsuit settlement about the vest quality, but some councilors were concerned that their safety was not worth the risk even though local police activities have not involved shootings.

Szepatowski asked about funds for expanding the teen co-ordinator to full-time status. Keiser promised a review, saying that he may need to recommend a reduction elsewhere. He had explained his plans to reorganize some staff assignments, to remove clerical tasks from the town planner, to hire a town worker able to help both the engineering and building departments, and to better staff and pay recreation workers.

The administration included the council-initiated goal of starting a municipal court with an estimated $17,000 that may or may not be selfsupporting through fines. Council President David Long said he had met earlier Tuesday with Keiser to discuss various budget items, including the wisdom of the court plan if enough revenue could not be assured.

Another major topic was the plan to replace long outdated public works equipment through a lease purchase plan that would cost $13,000 a year for five years in interest payments alone, plus annual installments for the $550,000 equipment costs.

Szepatowski said she was definitely for that spending, but only if town officials promised to get rid of the old equipment.

Sticky or silly

An unexpected exchange developed over a matter in the budget only indirectly. DiGiando asked about the possibility of a return to the town admission stickers - once good for the transfer station, town beach, and Fort Getty - and now for the past two budget years at an increased price, only for the station. People who want to park at the beach or travel within Ft. Getty need separate stickers. DiGiando said some residents want a return to one-sticker-good-for-all. A full scale discussion started.

"We could reverse it. It's not that big a problem. But we won't tonight. Anyone who wants can ask for an agenda item" for a future meeting.

Keiser asked if councilors wanted him to do a sticker study. There were a few snickers. Schnack said he was worried about safety for those with windshields filled with stickers.

Long asked if anyone wanted to prolong the discussion. DiGiando feigned deep thought, then responded, "Naahh."

Keiser said, "I was enjoying this." Long said, "I'd be enjoying it if it were 7 o'clock." The councilors adjourned about 20 minutes later, at 9:15 p.m. The session had started a few minutes after 6 p.m.

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