HARRISON—When Harrison Town Manager George “Bud” Finch offered a glimpse of the town’s economic standing at last week’s Selectmen’s meeting, he stressed the importance of allocating more money for capital improvement projects and purchases as it heads into the budget season.
At the Thursday, Jan. 8 meeting, Finch told Selectmen that Harrison has upped the money set aside for capital improvements by roughly $25,000 a year—and currently stands at $175,000—but that the town needs nearly $300,000 annually. More is needed, he said, and the Selectmen, Budget Committee and Town Meeting need to look at setting it aside.
“With the continued increasing costs of capital equipment and desire to remain debt free, the fund needs to be increased,” Finch said, adding that forecasting which one of the many projects to be tackled next is difficult since it’s unknown what will need to be fixed first. “I have made no secret about the term ‘deferred project,’ as it is just a more polite way of saying taking care of neglected projects. … Municipalities do not often have a good record of maintenance.”
Harrison has three basic reserve funds—the capital reserve for large purchases and projects, the capital road account for maintaining the town’s roads, and the deferred account, a catch-all which gives the town purchase flexibility and helps decrease departmental budget spikes from years of underfunding, Finch said.
For the current year, the full $350,000 allocated for road maintenance was spent, along with almost $105,000 that was carried forward from the previous budget for the two-mile project on Haskell Hill Road. Work included laying down a base and top coat of pavement, reclaiming and re-graveling the road.
There’s $175,000 in the Capital Reserve, none of which has been spent during the current fiscal year, since it’s used as a payment for the other reserve accounts, Finch said in an email. In the deferred account, which had $300,000 in it, nearly $98,000 has been spent thus far. He anticipates more than $56,000 will be spent on various projects, leaving nearly $146,000 left in the fund.
At last week’s meeting, Finch said the state has its own set of financial issues and he’s worried about the amount of money that could be handed down during the upcoming budget cycle. He said if one reads between the lines, the state plans on giving less to municipalities through revenue sharing and increasing property taxes. This is all the more reason for Harrison to set aside more money for future planning, he said.
“The reality, as I’ve said before, is we won’t ever be able to have everything that we want,” Finch said. “Often by responsible people I get asked why don’t we take care of more of the problems and my response is we have taken years to dig this hole we are in, and it will take years to climb out but at least we have stopped digging the hole deeper.”
Also at last week’s meeting, the four present Selectmen unanimously appointed members to the town’s Budget Committee for a one-year term. Selectmen Chairman Bill Winslow was absent from the meeting. Budget Committee members include Raymond Laplante, Colleen Densmore, James Dayton, Gordon Davis and Richard Maynard. Finch expects them to meet for a week to 10 days after the Thursday, Jan. 22, Selectmen’s meeting, when the first draft of the budget is presented.
Finch projected the municipal operations portion for the upcoming budget will be lower than what he inherited when he arrived in Harrison during fiscal year 2011. The Budget Committee will present the modified budget at the Thursday, April 9th Selectmen’s meeting before it comes before voters at Town Meeting in June.