2009-04-30 / Front Page

Tight budget for next fiscal year

There will be no tax increase
By Erin Tiernan

In a special session Monday night, the Town Council approved a $20.9 million budget for the town and schools in the 2009/2010 fiscal year, achieving its goal of a 0 percent tax increase.

Extensive budget revisions on behalf of the school committee and efforts by Town Administrator Bruce Keiser allowed for only a 0.9 percent budget increase next year.

For taxpayers, this is good news. Keiser developed the budget without raising taxes even though a loss in regular revenues to the town will require a tax levy increase of 1.5 percent next year to support expenditures.

He said new growth revenues made up for the loss of regular revenues from general state aid to the town, building permits and losses in other areas.

The school budget was approved at $12.53 million. The town's total budget was approved at $8.37 million, with the con- cession that administrators give the council a recommendation by today on whether to change or eliminate the position of the animal control officer.

Controversy over the value of the animal control officer's position concerned the council.

Councilman William Kelly raised concerns over the number of actual incidents and the amount of money the town spends yearly on the position. He said the ACO in Jamestown is the highest paid in the entire state, budgeted at just under $70,000 in salary, benefi ts and other costs related to the position.

Town Council president Julio DiGiando, Vice President Michael White, and Councilman Robert Sutton Jr. all expressed discomfort in making a personnel decision to modify or eliminate the position, but agreed that the effectiveness of the position needed to be investigated.

"I agree that $70,000 is a lot of money to pay for the amount of work that's being done," said White. "But nobody's told us, no one's brought us that (information) and that should come from the people who are supervising that position."

Kelly estimated that every call response by the ACO, 59 were reported last year, cost $1,000. He also commented that 50 percent of the time the ACO was on duty when leash laws were not in effect. Kelly said the position could be executed by police because it often is when the ACO is absent or off duty.

"I think this is the tip of the iceberg," said Kelly. "We need

to make hard choices starting with this council."

The council discussed each budget item in detail.

"These are very lean budgets that each department has proposed," explained Keiser. "In many individual accounts you actually see reductions over previous years."

Most actual budget increases are a result of union labor contract obligations with police, the department of public works and teachers.

"It seems the only areas of increases (in the budget) are areas where we are fulfilling our union obligations," said Kelly.

Several communities have reopened union contracts, but Keiser opted not to negotiate with unions to affect the 2009/2010 budget because all three contracts expire on June 30, 2010. He said he felt it unnecessary since he was able to exact a tax freeze without changing the current union agreements.

Keiser said he spoke with union representatives and they all expressed willingness to work with the town.

"The unions are aware of the changing economic landscape in Jamestown as well as around the state," he said. "They are willing to talk with us about what the costs of their contracts are."

The council urged residents to participate in cost-cutting tactics as well.

Councilwoman Barbara Szepatowski said she is aware that many Jamestowners throw away yard waste, such as leaves and lawn clippings in the central landfill instead of the composting pile.

If the waste products are composted instead disposed of as trash, it will cut costs in waste removal.

Reusable paper bags for yard waste are available at the Secret Garden and True Value Hardware Store in town. If residents with trash pickup use these bags to identify leaves and clippings, it will enable trash haulers to compost these materials easier.

The council also asked residents to reduce light emissions at night by turning off outside lights when they aren't in use.

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