Milford budget committee balks at selectmen’s plan

MILFORD – A proposal by selectmen to cut the town budget committee’s power is not going over well with the budget committee.

Selectmen’s Chairman Gary Daniels went to a meeting of the Milford Advisory Budget Committee last week and presented a warrant article that would limit the duties of the committee to items on the town warrant that produce a tax impact.

Right now the town budget committee and the school budget committee take votes on each article of their respective warrants, to recommend or not, and those votes are printed on the town and school ballots. Those votes greatly influence the way residents vote.

So last year, when the budget committee failed to recommend an article that would have allowed the town to remove and sell gravel from the town-owned Brox property, selectmen were not pleased. The committee had voted 1-4, one against and four abstaining, and the article failed at the polls.

At the committee’s Jan. 7 meeting, Daniels suggested that committee members don’t know enough to make informed decisions on issues selectmen have been dealing with for many months.

“Do you really want to take a position on every decision?” he said. The Brox article only asked for re-authorization of permission to sell earth materials that the town had had until the permission expired, he said, and the article doesn’t ask for money.

Longtime budget committee member Peg Seward told him that the committee’s charge has never been a problem before, and she has been paying attention and watching videos of the selectmen’s meetings all year.

And with town spending reaching “astronomical” and “unsustainable” levels, and with a budget hearing only days away, she and other members said this is not the right time.

“Why are we sitting here listening” to this? she said.

Other committee members said they provide the necessary checks and balances to selectmen’s powers and see no reason for a change, and the idea of only voting on items that have an immediate tax impact raises too many questions.

Should items that would ultimately affect taxes by affecting revenue, for example, be considered?

“I am concerned with the definition of tax impact,” said Committee Chairman Matt Lydon.

Later, Seward said, in a phone interview, that she will probably try to amend the proposed warrant article at the town Deliberative Session in February.

The question of the committee’s charge – the current one dates from 1974 – comes up every year, she said, and it should be resolved.

“There are people who think Milford” should have an official budget committee, as opposed to the current advisory committee, she said.

New Hampshire allows towns to have one of two different kinds of budget committees – either an official (sometimes known as municipal) budget committee or an unofficial budget committee. An official budget committee prepares and presents the budget, and the total amount appropriated cannot exceed the total recommended by the Budget Committee by more than 10 percent. An advisory budget committee only recommends items on the warrant.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, or kcleveland@cabinet.com.