Services discussed at joint budget session
WILTON – The Recycling Center and the ambulance service, although owned by the town of Wilton, are shared services, supported by the towns that use them. On Thursday, Jan. 12, the Wilton Budget Committee invited officials from the other towns to discuss the proposed budgets and preliminary plans for the coming years.
Budget Committee Chairman Cary Hughes said all of the figures were preliminary.
"This is the worst-case scenario, and has not been approved," Hughes said. "We wanted to get your input."
A 3 percent raise is proposed for town employees.
The Recycling Center, also used by Lyndeborough, Greenville, Temple and Mason, received the most attention. The budget, presented by Manager Steve Elliott, is essentially flat. It has an increase of about 0.44 percent, or about $25,000, for a total budget of $525,121.
The distribution of costs is determined by population. Wilton pays about 36 percent, Greenville 20.6, Lyndeborough 16.5, Mason 13.5 and Temple 13.4.
Income from recyclables last year was $86,836.
"There is no sign that income will increase," Elliott said, "so we are again estimating $75,000."
Lyndeborough Selectman Lee Mayhew asked whether a plan had been considered in which users buy special bags for disposal of trash. He said he realized it could keep away some users but that it would add income, which he said the center "really needs to do."
Elliott said it had been discussed, but because it would involve sales of the bags, "somebody has to handle the money, and we are trying to get away from that at the center."
Asked whether if rates for disposal of such items as appliances and tires could be raised, Elliott said whenever that’s done, more of them are found beside the road.
Elliott said the plan is to buy a scale in order to get a precise weight of materials being discarded. Now, it is a "guess on the volume," he said.
With the scale, to be used only for smaller vehicles, "We could charge the actual costs of materials going into the landfill," which should be more and a much fairer system, he said.
Elliott estimated the cost of the scale, plus the installation, at $45,000.
The idea was generally approved by the officials of the four user towns.
Last year, Wilton voters approved creating a "revolving fund" that covers the expenses, and transferred $40,169 into it from a capital reserve fund, plus a surplus of $19,460. This year’s surplus is estimated at $11,836. A surplus was previously divided among the user towns.
The reasoning behind the fund is to eliminate "ups and downs in the budget" during the years when there is a deficit, Elliott said. It currently contains $71,000.
Concerns were expressed that that arrangement put all decisions in the hands of the Wilton selectmen. Hughes said he hoped they would consult with the Center Advisory Committee.
However, that committee, recently reactivated, doesn’t yet have members for all towns. So far, only Mason and Lyndeborough have appointed members. The other selectmen said they had been unable to attract anyone.
The sticker program, which went into effect Jan. 1, is still being evaluated.
The Ambulance Service serves Lyndeborough and Temple from a station located on Route 31. The budget was presented by Town Administrator Scott Butcher, a total of $423,000, up from $369,292.
Service Director Gary Zirpolo is projecting a deficit of $12,000.
The service, based on population, has Wilton paying 55 percent, Lyndeborough 25 percent and Temple 20 percent.
The proposed increase of 15 percent for 2017 was considered unacceptable by several officials.
The increase is twofold: the need to increase the pay scale and the inability to collect bills.
The pay increase is needed to attract EMTs and paramedics, Butcher said. Wilton was paying much less than surrounding towns. A three-year gradual raise had been proposed, but was changed to one year because of the need for personnel.
The service is also considering hiring a full-time paraprofessional, since Zirpolo is the only full-time employee and has been filling in shifts.
Mayhew suggested hiring two part-time paramedics and thus saving on the benefits. Wilton Selectman Kermit Williams said they have a hard time finding part-time or per-diem employees.
Last year, the service "wrote off" about $70,000 as uncollectable, and another $119,000 in write-offs is possible, Butcher said. After 18 months, the billing service recommends taking other action such as a collection agency or by the select board.
One problem is out-of-area people, usually those involved in auto accidents. Their insurance company pays them, but they often don’t reimburse the ambulance service.
"We are probably writing off more than we should," Butcher said, "but these are residents."
Zirpolo said, "You can’t bill a patient more than Medicare or Medicaid pays," which is about 80 percent, Zirpolo said.
Selectmen said they check with their welfare directors to see if the patient is unable to pay.
A new ambulance is not planned for several years. Wilton and Lyndeborough contribute to a capital reserve fund. Temple prefers a one-time payment when a vehicle is purchased.