The Finance Committee reviewed the fiscal 2014 town budget.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Thursday's meeting of the Finance Committee was summed up by Public Works Director Tim Kaiser.
"I tried very hard to come up with something to make this interesting," he said before discussing his department's budget. "I just didn't have the material to work with."
Kaiser was one of several department heads who made their annual appearance before the panel to explain changes to their expenditures.
The Fin Comm is tasked with combing through the budget line by line in order to make a recommendation on the spending plan when it goes to the May 21 town meeting. The voters will see the broad strokes.
On Thursday, the committee carried out its responsibility of examining the details of the $6.73 million spending plan.
Town and school spending for fiscal 2013 are proposed to rise by 2.4 percent, matching an anticipated 2.4 percent increase in town revenues. The education portions of the budget are separate warrant articles at town meeting and are considered at other meetings of the Finance Committee. On Thursday, it focused solely on the town side of the budget.
Town Manager Peter Fohlin, Police Chief Kyle Johnson, Harper Center Director Brian O'Grady, Library Director Pat McLeod, Finance Director Janet Saddler and Kaiser each took a turn in the hot seat. Another department head, Inspection Services Director Michael Card, was on sick leave, forcing Fohlin to handle the presentation of his budget.
Despite Kaiser's quip about his "uninteresting" presentation, his budget generated the most discussion of any on Thursday evening — not surprising since Public Works is the largest "cost center" in the town's budget.
Departments heads Chief Kyle Johnson, Tim Kaiser, Brian O'Grady and Janet Saddler explained their budget to the committee with Town Manager Peter Fohlin.
Just more than $2 million of the $6.7 million town budget is allotted to public works, where expenses are rising by 1.4 percent.
Kaiser explained that while some expenses went up — notably fuel for the town's fleet of highway vehicles and wage increases commensurate with raises being granted throughout the town — the DPW has been able to find places to trim.
For example, this year's budget combines two administrative assistants into a single position. Kaiser said the retirement of one employee provided an opportunity to "tighten the belt" and get by with one. The department also realized cost savings from implementing energy efficiency measures at the Town Garage and installing a solar array, Kaiser said.
Two user fees connected to Kaiser's department either would go down or stay the same under the budget as proposed. The water and sewer rate would drop by 28 cents per 100 cubic feet, and the sticker and bag fees at the town's transfer station would remain constant.
One area of the DPW budget that remains in flux is the budget for capital expenses. As Fohlin reported at the Fin Comm's Feb. 28 meeting, an accident that totaled one of the town's sanding trucks put one dent in the capital budget. Another blow was the higher than expected low bid to replace a culvert that carries Christmas Brook beneath Latham Street.
Kaiser said Thursday the town was still waiting to hear from its insurance company about compensation for the vehicle. But it is inevitable that some money will have to be shifted from some of the road projects proposed in order to pay the unexpected expenses.
"Some other project will not get done this year in deferrence to [Latham Street], and some other project will not get done this year in deferrence to the truck," Fohlin said.
The most expensive projects in the original $518,000 capital improvements budget: a $192,000 drainage and overlay project on Gale Road and a $145,000 curb, sidewalk and overlay project on North Street.
The other department heads faced minimal questioning from the committee, though each took the time to explain any notable changes to their spending plans. Among the highlights from the other departments:
• The line item for the town's legal services is up 36 percent, from $25,743 in FY13 to $35,000 for FY14. Fohlin said the town encountered more legal expenses in the last couple of years due to unanticipated events like the proposed biomass plant in Pownal, Vt., and a proposed motorcycle rally on Hopper Road last summer. "This is not a bad place to overbudget," Fohlin said. "If it doesn't get spent, it just goes back to free cash anyway."
• Saddler noted a 100 percent rise in the line item for legal services in the treasurer-collector budget, from $5,000 last year to $10,000 this year. She said although the town has a 98 percent collection rate for property taxes, it has seen an increase in the number of foreclosures.
• The recently revitalized town Agricultural Commission is in line to receive $1,000 in funding after not receiving an allotment in last year's town budget.
• The line item for replacing cruisers in the Police budget increased 48 percent from $23,000 to $34,000 to better reflect the actual cost of new vehicles, Johnson said.
• McLeod reported that the library has hired a new children's librarian to replace longtime employee Mindy Hackner. The new librarian is expected to begin on Monday.
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