Milford articles would start capital reserve funds

MILFORD – Fewer than 70 residents reviewed the town budget and 30 other warrant articles during a six-hour Deliberative Session on Saturday, when more than $19 million worth of spending articles were moved to the ballot for the March 14 elections.

Town Administrator Mark Bender went over the town’s $14 million operating budget, and he said the spending plan plus other warrant articles will actually bring down the town portion of the tax rate by 3.2 percent, to $6.89.

Bender first detailed town improvements in 2016, including the refurbishment of South Street, the dredging of Osgood Pond and progress at the Fletcher Paint Superfund site. Infrastructure improvements included paving, sidewalk work, new parking at Keyes Park, new guardrails on bridges and new sports fields on Heron Pond Road.

Advisory Budget Committee Chairman Matt Lydon commended town officials and said the committee had only one major concern about the operating budget: $10,000 to refurbish a police cruiser. The committee thought the town should buy a new one instead.

Because the town has been working under a default budget, selectmen’s Chairman Mark Fougere said seletemen looked “at every possible way to save money.” But he said if the refurbished vehicle doesn’t work out, the town will buy a new one.

New this year are several capital reserve fund warrant articles, described as “savings accounts” for town needs.

The point is to smooth out tax increases, officials said. They are for fire apparatus, town facilities renovations, ambulance vehicle replacement, Keyes Park expansion, assessing and public safety communication equipment. There is already a bridge replacement capital reserve fund. Each is for $25,000, except for the $40,000 public safety communication equipment article.

A capital reserve exploratory committee had modeled them after Amherst, which has 24 capital reserve funds, said Eric Schelberg, ambulance director and committee member.

Expenditures of more than $75,000 will require a vote at town meeting.

Resident Steve Takacs offered an amendment to the town facilities fund article to require a vote at Town Meeting for expenditures of less than $75,000, but it failed.

Water Commissioner Dale White called it “disrespecful and inappropriate” not to trust town officials with spending less than that amount.

Also on the warrant:

* A $2 million bond to improve 11 miles of town roads over a two-year period. Public Works Director Rick Riendeau said they will work on a “mix of good and bad roads. … The sooner we take care of the roads. the better.”

The article needs a 60 percent vote to pass, and would have no tax impact the first year.

* A $375,000 backup generator for the wastewater treatment plant, with the cost paid for by wastewater user fees. The current generator dates from 1979, Riendeau said, and if it fails, “Sewage would flow into the Souhegan River in minutes.”

* $110,000 for an LED energy-saving outdoor lighting project.

* First-year payment for lease purchases of a dump truck, grader and a tractor/backhoe for the Public Works Department. The DPW’s current dump truck is 17 years old, has had 8 1/2 weeks of downtime this year, uses 4 gallons of oil in five hours and would cost about $50,000 to refurbish, Riendeau said during his slideshow presentation.

Selectmen gave divided support on the dump truck and tractor/backhoe purchases, with the minority wanting to put them off. The Budget Committee was in unanimous support; Lydon said it’s clear the vehicles should be replaced.

Selectmen were also divided on the $8,500 fireworks article, with Daniels calling it the “least cost-effective” of the town’s many recreation events.

A $7,500 article to fund the Labor Day parade was amended to $10,000 after Jay Duffy said he and Brendan Philbrick want to “bring it back to its former glory.”

The Milford Veterans of Foreign Wars can no longer support the parade, he said, and they are “working diligently” to raise the money, but local businesses are approached daily to give money for one cause or other.

“This is such a great parade,” Tim Finan said. “It makes sense to give the money needed,” and to provide “breathing room to get it back on its feet.”

A petition article from Suzanne Fournier, of Brox Environmental Citizens, regarding the sports fields on Heron Pond Road sparked pro and con remarks on what has been a contentious issue for many months.

Fournier, who has been fighting the sports fields, said the money to build the fields should have gone to “underutilized” parks.

Several people spoke in favor of the playing fields, including Lorna Willette, who said, “The biggest endangered species is our children.”

Town Attorney William Drescher called it a “sense of the meeting” petition, and it was amended to clarify its meaning.

Earlier in the meeting, Takacs asked whether voters had given the town permission to build the fields. Fougere told him the town has a shortage of fields, the work was done using DPW labor at a low cost and the money was already in the budget. For the record, Fougere said, “the fields did not violate any state” laws or regulations, as opponents had claimed.

After the meeting, selectmen met to go over their recommendations and voted to oppose an amended conservation land funds article with a vote of 4-1. The Deliberative Session had amended the article to $25,000, up from $20,000.

The also decided to support the sports fields petiton article unanimously.

At the beginning of the meeting, Fougere asked for a moment of silence to honor former Cabinet Editor and Publisher Bill Rotch. The board also thanked Selectman Kathy Bauer, who isn’t running for another term, for her “many hours and years on the Planning and Zoning boards and Board of Selectmen.

Russ Works, from the DPW, and Transfer Station Manager Tammy Scott were given the town’s annual safety awards.

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