PARIS — At a joint meeting, Paris officials, budget committee and residents bantered back and forth during a sometimes lively discussion about next year’s spending plan, but did not make any decisions on it.
At Tuesday night’s meeting Town Manager Amy Bernard explained she asked each department head to cut 10 percent off their current budgets with a goal of reducing the overall budget by $500,000 for fiscal 2016. Resident and business owner Scott Buffington wondered if this was the best approach, noting some budgets could take a 10 percent reduction better than others.
Proposed capital budget savings total $250,750. The biggest cut comes from road reconstruction at $180,000, with eight other reductions. Bernard said if this cut goes through, ditching and culvert work would be done in-house.
“I think it’s highly reasonable to scale back the roads program. I don’t know what the right number is … but I think that as a group, to me, that would almost be a great place to begin,” Selectman Vic Hodgkins said. “If we could get consensus on that one line that would give us the push and pull of where all the other numbers have to fall into.”
Budget Committee Chairman Robert Kircherr, along with Skip Mowatt, were worried about significantly cutting the roads plan and kicking the can further down the road, allowing for roads to further deteriorate.
Bernard offered two scenarios to reduce the administration’s budget, which currently stands at $433,456. The first is reducing the number of hours the Town Office is open a week from 40 hours, five days a week, to 32 hours, four days a week. The hours would be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, as many holidays fall on Monday, office staff wouldn’t lose productivity that day and it would save the most in heat and electrical costs. The selectboard would have to change its meeting day and $50,084 would be saved.
The second would keep the Town Office open five days a week from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and nix one deputy clerk position. The office would no longer be able to say open the fourth Monday night each month due to reduced staffing. Bernard predicted longer wait times for residents conducting transactions at the town office. The plan would reduce the budget by $52,675.
The Paris Public Library’s budget is currently $187,294. Proposed reductions include having the library open 45 hours, possibly up to 47 hours, six days a week, from the current 54 hours, Michael Dignan of the library said. Staff hours would be reduced from 90 to 75.5 a week. Including a 14 percent reduction on materials, this plan would save $18,144.
“I think the library is one good thing we have in this town and I would hate to see a dime taken out of his budget,” Budget Committee member Rick Little said about Dignan’s plan.
Resident Terry Robinson suggested pushing the hours back so the Town Office and/or library could be open later if hours are cut at either location.
Interim Police Chief Jeff Lange and Fire Chief Brad Frost expressed concerns regarding budget cuts and potential loss of services to the town. Both noted increased calls for services in their respective departments.
The current Police Department’s budget is $605,739, which includes the school district’s reimbursement of $46,200 for the school resource officer (SRO) at the high school. Lange offered two budget reduction scenarios that would allow for 24/7 police coverage. He presented a potential savings of $66,688 by terminating the current SRO, which would be required by the current union agreement. This would mean the second in command, the sergeant, would return to the high school to serve as the SRO.
The second option is to cut two full-time police officers for a savings of $104,536. Lange would have to increase the current part-time officer rate from $13.50 to $15 an hour since most of the hours would be at night. He would increase the overtime rate by $2,000 to $30,000 and request to hire three part-time officers.
The current Highway Department budget comes in at $623,375. Highway Director Jamie Hutchinson presented a reduction of $85,982, which includes reducing overtime because the highway trucks are operating less, having one less part-time summer person and savings in benefits because of fewer employees. Another big savings – which is included in the total – is $20,000 from the salt line item garnered by only salting in-town, Main Street and state roads.
“If you guys aren’t expecting to use a lot of salt on the back roads in the winter, expect a lot of complaints,” Dignan said. “I don’t think salt is one thing you could afford to eliminate.”
Hutchinson said as long as the salt price holds the line, his department should fare well and should be able to salt some of the back roads.
Frost gave three scenarios, all of which axed the two per diem and one on-call firefighters on Saturday and Sunday. This would leave the fire house with no staff to handle emergency and regular calls, station maintenance or issuing burning permits on the weekend.
The first scenario would also nix using the meeting room and large kitchen, which would save on heat and electricity, along with upkeep, and reducing the chief’s salary. It would save a total of $41,706.
The second scenario would also drop the weekday per diem staffing to 11-hour shifts from 12 hours, reducing personnel hours by 780 annually. This scenario would reduce the budget by $41,487. The third scenario would cut 700 hours from the paid on-call employee line and reduce the fire chief’s salary. This would save $42,012.
“It would be just like my nighttime coverage, it would like flipping a coin,” Frost said when asked about the impact of cutting the weekend employees. “It would be a big impact. You would have to rely on Norway to respond. It wouldn’t be mutual aid after a while.”
There is also $26,730 in proposed reductions for the unclassified departments’ budget.
The selectboard directed Bernard to look at the cost savings of combining the Town Office and Police and Fire departments in one location.
The next joint meeting between selectmen and the Budget Committee is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10 at the fire station.