$8.4 million budget OK’d

16 years ago
By Elizabeth Gartley 
Special to the Pioneer Times

    HOULTON – Although town department heads were present and prepared for the budget public hearing held on Tuesday, Jan. 22, very few items came under discussion; the notable exception was funding toward employee benefits.
    Ultimately, the only item the council altered from the Jan. 7 proposed budget was employee benefits. Sparking much debate, health benefits for town employees was also the only line item that was not voted on unanimously by the council.
    The council approved over half the budget line items unanimously with few comments and little discussion before touching on employee benefits.
    Councilor John Fitzpatrick then moved to amend the employee benefits line item to reinstate the $55,000 which the council proposed to remove on Jan. 7 (bringing the total to $1,048,317).
    “I’ve given it some thought, and to take 20 percent of their pay in one year, that’s an awful chunk,” Fitzpatrick said, “I think if we put it back in and let the unions and the town manager negotiate the new contracts, if we save money, that’s great, but if not we’re going to be scrambling in July looking for money.”
    Councilor Nancy Ketch agreed.
    “Even though the contact is due to get done in June, if it’s not finalized, [town employees] continue to work under the existing contract and we could end up having to pay until that’s finalized,” Ketch said, “I think the prudent way to handle that is to leave the budget as it was presented. We can certainly suggest that we look at having people pay more, but I think that needs to be handled in negotiations.”
    Councilor Gerald Adams “respectfully disagreed” with councilors Fitzpatrick and Ketch.
    “The past five years that I’ve been on [the council], we run into this each and every year, and we end up doing the same thing and nothing ever changes,” Adams said.
    Several councilors stressed the fact that since town employees work under their existing contract until a new one is signed, it would be “fiscally irresponsible” to take funds out of employee benefits before negotiations start.
    The amendment and approval of $1,048,317 to the employee benefits line item passed 4-2, with only councilors Adams and Paul Romanelli objecting to the change.
    Chairman Paul Cleary also noted that the council has scheduled an executive session for the first meeting in February to discuss contract negotiations.
    The council approved the remainder of the budget line items unanimously.
    Councilor Romanelli then suggested making some changes to the overall approach to the annual budget, including having the council make budget goals and suggestions before the original budget is submitted by the town manager.
    The council approved the budget for fiscal year 2008 as $8,431,398, which represents a 3.47 percent increase from 2007, $96,000 of which was in SAD 29.
    Some councilors remained concerned about citizens’ demand for services, but resistance to tax increases, and the overall future of the budget, mil rate and available services.
    “You can’t have a champagne appetite when all you got to drink is Old Duke,” remarked councilor Romanelli.