Brookline, NH selectboard reviews budget, warrants

BROOKLINE – Over the course of two evenings, the Brookline Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee reviewed the 2014 budget and warrants that will be on the ballot in March where very few residents heard about the roughly $4 million budget.

The meetings were held last week on Jan. 21 and Jan. 22. The total town budget being proposed is $4,032,939, which represents a one percent increase over last year’s operating budget of $3,994,329. Major factors driving the budget include increases in the cost of health insurance and state retirement benefits for personnel, higher IT support expenses and additional building maintenance and repairs. Several departments had flat or decreased budgets, including sanitation, pest control, fire and the communication center.

The proposed executive budget is $199,952, for a four percent decrease over last year. Slight increases in dues and selectboard salaries were offset by $2,000 less in office equipment and a $7,500 reduction in office salaries due to administrative assistant Rena Duncklee reducing her hours from five days a week to four.

Revaluation of property decreased by 58.1 percent, with increases in updates and data verification costs offset by the completion of the full update.

The building inspection proposed budget is 39.8 percent higher than 2013. Due to the number of construction permits and new homes being built, the building inspector will work four days a week rather than three, with a salary increase from $23,306 to $32,400 and additional books and training materials representing the bulk of the change in that budget.

Election and registration saw an 83.5 percent increase in proposed budget because there will be three elections this cycle rather than one, bringing the total to $5,900 for the additional salaries, software support, postage and supplies.

The other significant increase in the budget occurred in general government building, which proposed $175,401, for a 31.2 percent increase from last year’s total of $133,712. That figure includes $13,000 to paint the exterior of Town Hall, $10,830 to paint the exterior of the library, replace clapboards and trim, $12,000 to reshingle the roof of the fire station apparatus bay, and $10,000 for remediation of water in the overhead doors and enhanced landscaping and lawn care at the Safety Complex.

The proposed police budget of $666,922 is up five percent over 2013, due partly to an increase in costs to lease cruisers. Some disability claims had been paid out of salary due to paperwork not being filed in a timely fashion, and the reimbursements went to the general fund. Most other police line items remained flat.

A warrant article is being proposed to establish a revolving fund for the purpose of police special details. If passed, the warrant would reduce the department’s budget by $25,000.

The ambulance budget was relatively flat, with slight increases in training and salaries. The Fire Department budget dipped 0.5 percent from last year, with increases in salaries for custodial, full-time and clerical workers offset by a decrease in new equipment. A proposal to hire a full-time fire chief at a salary of $75,500 for the remaining months of the year will be voted on as a warrant article separate from the budget.

The sanitation budget saw both an increase in revenues and a decrease in expenses, yielding a 1.5 percent decrease in proposed budget. Road Agent Jerry Farwell said revenues from recycling, particularly metal, were doing well, and the amount of construction debris was lower.

The only budget item amended by the board during the meeting was public welfare. Last year, $19,500 was appropriated and only $15,260 was expended, so the 2014 budget proposed $17,000.

“Demand is up,” said Ann Webb, director of Health and Public Welfare. “Last January, we spent $500. So far, we are way above last year. It may even out but as of now we are up and have (used) $3,487 already in January.”

Webb cited the cold weather and unemployment benefits running out as possible factors for the increased demand for assistance. She also pointed out that for the first time, PSNH has threatened to disconnect power during the winter rather than waiting until spring. The board agreed to restore $2,500 to bring the public welfare line item up to last year’s level.

The Recreation Commission budget shows a 16.4 percent increase on paper, but commission member Richard Vertullo explained why that number is deceptive.

“Our main budget is essentially flat,” he said. “We are constructing two new beach volleyball courts and have put other improvements on hold. There is a strong interest in having leagues, not only from town members, but from other towns as well.”

Vertullo estimates revenues of at least $3,000 from court rental fees will offset the increase in park improvement expenses in the proposed budget.

The selectboard voted 4-0-1 to support the proposed budget of $4,032,939, with John Carr abstaining.

Both members of the Finance Committee voted in favor, with Brian Rater in attendance and Linda Chomiak participating via telephone.

The only divisive issue is what to do about the Annex. Two public hearings have already been held to try to determine whether the historic building currently used for storage should be repaired or razed. Two competing warrant articles have been proposed, one to raise and appropriate $31,600 to repair the structure so it can safely continue being used for storage, and the other to raze and appropriate $14,600 to remove the building.

Chomiak and selectmen Darryl Philpot and John Carr voted in favor of supporting the warrant to raze the Annex, while Rater and selectmen Sue Adams and Brendan Denehy voted against supporting it. Selectman Karl Dowling abstained.

If neither warrant is passed, then the status quo will prevail. The building will remain with minimum ongoing maintenance. In 2013, $3,000 was budgeted for fuel oil, electricity and maintenance of the Annex, with actual expenditures totaling $3,318.

Complete budget information and full text of the warrant articles can be found on the town’s website, www.brooklinenh.us. The budget will be voted on during town meeting on March 12, beginning at 7 p.m., at Captain Samuel Douglass Academy.