Claremont Advances Budget

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 6/1/2017 12:20:31 AM
Modified: 6/1/2017 12:20:38 AM

Claremont — The city is likely to restore funding for a full-time library position that was cut as part of a draft budget, and also will contribute funds next year to the public bus system operated by Southwestern Community Services.

Though no final decisions were made by the City Council at Wednesday night’s discussion of city Manager Ryan McNutt’s proposed $16.4 million budget, those two items were supported by a majority of the nine-member council.

At the conclusion of the meeting, which lasted more than two hours, Councilor Scott Pope asked McNutt to prepare three different fiscal scenarios.

The first would restore $79,000 for a full-time library position but not raise the city portion of the tax rate; the second would add the position but increase the tax rate 6 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, the same increase under McNutt’s original proposal; and the third would show the tax impact of the additional library position on top of the projected 6 cent increase.

McNutt told the council he saw the bus service as an important piece of the city’s economic development plans.

“I do think it is important to fund the bus line,” McNutt said. He said he feared that if the city did not support it, the two other communities serviced by the line, Charlestown and Newport, would withdraw their funding, which would put an end to the federal match and most likely spell the end of the service.

“I don’t want to be the cause of losing federal funding,” McNutt said. “We can find $25,000 in the existing budget without putting it on the tax rate.”

Discussion of the library position dominated the meeting, with several residents speaking in support of restoring some, if not all, of the $156,000, or 31 percent, cut to the library budget under McNutt’s proposal.

“Please don’t cut the library budget,” resident Cindy Cleveland said. “I believe it is vital to our community. Families enjoy it. All ages use it.”

Another resident, Sylvia Howe, said she recalls how the Fiske Library benefited her while she was in school in the 1940s and ’50s. She said it still benefits her today, thanks to the staff.

“We have a staff that is knowledgeable, kind and very pleased to be of service,” Howe said. “It is amazing what our library does for us.”

Another resident asked not only for the cuts to be restored, but for funding to be increased. Library trustee Bob Arcand said the cuts would “devastate morale and gut funding.”

McNutt said cutting the library budget was not something he wanted to do but with a structural deficit that requires money from reserves to pay some expenses, tough choices have to be made and there can’t be any “sacred cows.”

“This budget is painful, as it is designed to be,” McNutt said, adding that economic growth is the only answer to lowering the tax rate and providing needed services. “We have to have reductions while we grow if we are going to get out of this fix.”

At least five councilors — Scott Pope, Keith Raymond, Allen Damren, Nick Koloski and John Simonds — all voiced support for restoring the library position, which would mean the library would have three full-time positions and six part-time positions. The fourth full-time employee retired and is not being replaced.

“It is a needed resource in the community,” said Simonds, who also said he had heard from people who told him they wanted money restored to the library budget. “I’m going to support putting one position back in the budget.”

Mayor Charlene Lovett appeared to be against adding money for the library position.

“If we are going to be in favor of the position, we have got to find someplace else to cut,” Lovett said.

Earlier in the meeting, Lovett told the council about the need to control spending to avoid a tax increase, adding that $1.4 million from fund balance was used this year to offset some expenses and avoid a municipal tax increase. McNutt’s budget also proposes $900,000 from fund balance.

“If we don’t make changes, we will have nothing in fund balance,” Lovett said. “We have to make some difficult decisions to get out of this cycle.

“Having the highest (overall) tax rate in the state is not a seller. People can’t afford increases in taxes.”

At a joint meeting of the School Board and City Council held earlier this year, Lovett said, it was agreed that both entities would work to create budgets that did not increase the tax rate.

The School Board accomplished this goal.

“I don’t want to ask another governing body to do something we are not willing to do,” Lovett said.

But when Finance Director Mary Walter pointed out the school tax rate increased each of the last three years while the city rate dropped, Councilor Bruce Temple said he was OK with an increase in the city rate.

Councilor Vic Bergeron, who said he understands the library has value, agreed with Lovett.

The emails, calls and personal encounters with residents all support lower spending, he said.

“My taxes are too high. Start cutting the budget. I hear it everywhere I go,” Bergeron said. Bergeron was opposed to funding the bus service, as well.

Some councilors thought revenues might be underestimated a bit, but that discussion did not go far after Finance Director Mary Walter said her estimates last year were under by just $82,000 on a $17 million budget.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.




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