Board Weighs Loosening Town’s Budget Belt a Few Notches

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Municipal Finance

Budget and finance.

ORLEANS With a structural deficit no longer looming in next fiscal year’s budget, the select board considered last week what programs and services could be added back into the spending plan.

A projected unused tax levy capacity of $640,000 allowed the board to develop a list of potential additions ranging from increased hours for a part-time video technician to creation of a part-time recreation coordinator position to pull together the community’s resources.

“This is a very difficult year,” Select Board Chair Kevin Galligan said regarding the recreation position under discussion. “We asked every single department and they did what they could to cut.” Adding the coordinator job “is not to detract from the sacrifices other departments and entities have made,” he said. “I don’t want people to think Christmas has come. It has not. We are lacking full utilization of all facilities out there.”

The board showed interest in adding a part-time receptionist to the office of Town Clerk Cynthia May, who’s been asking for additional help for a couple of years, and agreed to consider dedicating more funds to help manage properties under control of the conservation commission. That body provides some funds from the fees it collects, and the board wants to know if the commission can offer more.

Members would like to restore funding for the police department’s unarmed community services officers. “The biggest benefactor of those is beach operations,” Town Administrator John Kelly said. Galligan said the board should consider restoring the reserve officer slot as well. “That’s an incredibly valuable position,” he said, with “institutional knowledge.” Galligan said Chief Scott MacDonald believes half the funding could come from the budget and the rest from working details.

The fire department’s ambitious strategic plan, and its goal of winning national accreditation, is worthy of some financial support, several members agreed. “If we can make an investment (Chief) Geof (Deering) can leverage for grants,” member Andrea Reed said. “We’ll receive great value in quality of services.”

Over the last couple of years, the board has declined to fund additional help in the building department, including a part-time code enforcement officer and assistance with automating permitting. Last week, members agreed to add a placeholder amount to the list of considerations that could cover either role.

“The sacrifice each department went through to accommodate us have to be weighed against what we as residents expect to maintain as essential services,” Reed said. “The demands on several departments have been out of proportion to normal years. It’s worth keeping these lists and giving us time to be really thoughtful about what services we’re providing.”

Maybe it’s because he lives on a street named for a tree, but Galligan was particularly frustrated by a proposed cut in the tree warden’s budget. “I can’t stand what’s going on,” he said. “We have dead trees. They get flush cut. Nothing gets replanted. We’ve got no dollars for replanting trees in town. Can we please put $2,000 back in to get trees planted?”

The board asked to hear directly from Council on Aging Director Judi Wilson about the staff reorganization and budget cuts she proposed. “She’s one of the hardest workers,” member Cecil Newcomb, the board’s liaison to the COA, said. “Even I told her she’s getting too thin with her budget.”

Finance Director Cathy Doane kept a running total of the potential add-backs, which exceeded $100,000.

The board will review fee schedules at its March 10 meeting, an essential step in preparing enterprise fund budgets for services such as the transfer station that will be funded by a mix of fees and taxes. The presentation will include fees charged by neighboring towns for similar services. A public hearing on the proposed fees is set for March 31.

A board vote on the operating budget is scheduled for March 17, with votes on the five enterprise funds on tap for March 24.