2018 Raymond Town Deliberative

Attempts Fail to Cut Raymond Operating Budget, Social Services
By Leslie O’Donnell      2-5-18

Despite two hours of arguments to cut as well as to boost the Town budget, Raymond citizens sent an amended operating budget to the warrant that adds $60,000 for a firefighter at Deliberative Session Saturday, Feb. 3.

Selectmen, the Town Manager and the Town Attorney explained that the firefighter, who would be the Town’s fourth full-time firefighting position, had been left out of the budget in error, and when the omission was discovered, it was too late to add it in. The Town has had four full-time firefighters since 1996.

Also under debate was social service agency funding, although the article ended up going to the warrant without amendment.

Fewer than 100 residents turned out for Deliberative, and illness kept Selectman George Plante and Community Development Director Ernie Creveling away. Town Manager Craig Wheeler was in attendance, but noted he had a bad cold.

Town Moderator Kathleen Hoelzel called the Deliberative to order at Raymond High School at 10 a.m. The session concluded at 4:30 p.m., with just 15 minutes off for a lunch break.

Voters will decide on five zoning amendments, articles 2 through 6, at the Town election. Zoning amendments cannot be changed at Deliberative, and were passed on as written to the warrant.

Operating Budget

The main focus of the meeting began at 10:25 a.m. with Article 7, the Town Budget, which was presented as $7,510,131 for the Town Operating Budget and $782,078 for the Water Department Operating Budget, for a total of $8,292,209. The Default Operating Budget was set at $7,642,097, with the Water Operating Budget at $786,078, for a total of $8,428,175.

Wheeler said the budget showed an increase of .55 percent over last year’s default budget, under which the Town has been operating.

He then explained that when Paul Hammond was promoted from deputy chief to acting fire chief following Kevin Pratt’s retirement and was later named fire chief, that left the fourth full-time firefighter position open.

After Town budget hearings were over, Hammond realized the budget did not include a fourth firefighter and asked to have the position included in the budget, and the selectmen agreed. However, the budget could not be changed within the time remaining, and the proposed operating budget thus did not include the fourth full-time firefighter.

At Deliberative, Carol Watjus immediately asked to amend the budget to cut $300,000, and requested a secret ballot. Her cut would have brought the Town operating budget to $7,210,131. James Merriman seconded her motion.

Watjus said her proposal was based on what she called “fat and fluff in the budget by overestimating.” She said several line items in the budget had money left over at the end of the year, ranging from Public Works to Police and Fire.

“The last few years there’s been overestimating of budgets,” she said, noting that money is placed in the unassigned fund balance. “This money that was overbudgeted ends up in the savings account and can be cut. There’s a good fund balance now. Cutting the extra fat and fluff could be done now.”

She questioned the need to keep saving when the unassigned fund balance already contains approximately $2.2 million. “I’m looking at the Town overestimating expenses and underestimating revenues,” she said.

Selectman Jack Barnes, speaking as a citizen, said her proposed amendment is about a 3-1/2 percent cut. “I sense the frustration some folks have with the budget – it’s understandable,” he said. “But I’m concerned, and I would like to ask her to lower it to perhaps a 2 percent cut. The default budget last year cut about $160,000 from the operating budget and the Town was able, with a lot of hard work, to operate. If we’d had to cut $300,000, folks will be concerned about services that might not be available. I would like that figure lowered so we would not affect services and townspeople. I would ask Carol to withdraw her motion and propose a lower cut.”

Watjus, however, said she did not want to change her proposed cut, and the $300,000 reduction remained on the floor.

Retired Fire Chief Kevin Pratt asked if the proposed budget included a pay raise for call firefighters. He noted they make up 80 percent of the Town’s fire service, and said Raymond is getting three times the number of fire calls it did in 1997.

David Hall said the time to propose such cuts was during hearings of the Board of Selectmen and Budget Committee, and said he supported the original article without the cut. Dawn Merriman responded that residents had tried to lower the budget to no avail.

Wheeler acknowledged the Town has been conservative in budgeting revenue estimates. “When I came in, the unreserved fund balance was at negative $500,000,” he said. “With the Board of Selectmen and department heads, we have increased that fund to almost $2.2 million over the last seven years. It is absolutely critical to this community. We could go through $2 million in a crisis very quickly. It is my recommendation that we put money in that fund till 2019.”

He noted 2017 was a good year for the Town, with high motor vehicle registration revenue and return on investments. “I continue to support putting $200,000 to $250,000 into our fund balance to protect the needs of the community going forward,” he added.

Residents went to secret ballot at 10:40 a.m. to vote on the proposed $300,000 cut to the operating budget. At 11:30 a.m., the results were read – 25 in favor and 67 opposed; the amendment failed.

Richard Nunziato then proposed adding $60,000 to the operating budget to fund the previously discussed fourth full-time firefighter. Colleen West-Coates provided the second. The proposal brought the budget total to $8,352.209, a figure still below the default.

Tina Thomas noted she had put forward a citizen petition, Article 25, to provide $60,000 for a firefighter, because the selectmen had failed to include that position in the budget.

“I want a guarantee that if this passed,” she said, referring to the operating budget proposal, “we would get the firefighter.”

Wheeler said the Town would get the fourth firefighter because that was the direction of the people.

Selectman Wayne Welch said of the omission of the firefighter from the operating budget, “it’s a mistake and an oversight that was not caught until the fire chief came to me and said we’re missing the money for a fourth firefighter.  I still say it belongs in the operating budget. You’ve got my word – it’s all I’ve got and all I’ve ever had.

“There will be a fourth man in the department,” Selectman Welch emphasized. “It was just an oversight, nothing else.”

Tina Thomas asked to hear the view of the other three selectmen present. Gregory Bemis said he “absolutely” would support hiring a fourth firefighter. Barnes said, “if this (amended $60,000 addition) goes into the budget, the five selectmen will direct the Town Manager to have a fourth firefighter. That’s a promise. We are elected; the Town Manager works for the selectmen.”

Wood said, “it was our intent to correct the error in the budget, and it is our intent to get this done.”

And the Town Manager added, “I guarantee I will work with the Fire Chief to get this position filled as soon as possible.”

Ed French took the microphone to say “there will be a moral obligation that the selectmen will hire a firefighter.”

In response to questions about approval of both the amended budget and Article 25, Town Attorney Keriann Roman raised the issue of New Hampshire’s “no means no.” “I’m concerned that if you do not put the money in the budget and just rely on Article 25, if Article 25 fails, DRA (New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration) may say ‘no means no,’” and not allow hiring a firefighter.

She said in her legal opinion, the Town could fight that, but it would be safer to include the funding in the operating budget. She noted there is no legally binding authority for the selectmen to hire a firefighter with the additional funds, but they have said they would do so.

The attorney also explained, in response to a question from Joe Saulnier, that if the money were not included in the budget and Article 25 was approved, the firefighter position could not be included in the following year’s default budget.

She also noted, in response to a question, that the unassigned fund balance could not be used for the operating budget, although individual money warrant articles could be amended to reduce tax cost by using the fund balance.

Eric Demas of the Finance Office said the latest figures show the fund balance with $2,285,917. He said the fund balance should be in the 10 to 20 percent range, with 16 percent considered best practice.

The vote for amending the budget to add $60,000 was approved 59-7.

Resident Lee Weldy then proposed cutting $150,000 from the budget, bringing it to $8,202,209. James Merriman provided the second. Weldy’s original proposal was to offset any increase in taxes in his amendment from the unreserved fund balance, but he was advised by Demas that there would be no tax increase, and by the attorney, who explained again that there is no authority to amend the operating budget by using the fund balance.

Weldy then withdrew his motion and made a new one to allow a cut of $150,000 from the budget.

Nick Longo spoke in favor of the cut, as did Tina Thomas, who said she supported it because of the high unreserved fund balance, and because she wants the selectmen to go after delinquent taxes.

Ed French spoke against the amendment and said the proposed cut was not strategic in ensuring an appropriate fund balance.  “As the Town Treasurer, we have not used TAN (Tax Anticipation Notes, repaid by future tax collections),” he said. “Right before the tax bills go out, we don’t have to borrow because we have the unreserved fund balance. I don’t want to have to talk to the Finance Department and say we need a loan before the taxes come in.”

At 12:30 p.m., the motion failed, 30-47. Wood moved and Bemis seconded to restrict further consideration of the budget, and the amended budget, with $60,000 added and no cuts, was moved to the warrant.

The session then moved on to Article 25.

Resident Christina Vogel asked Thomas if it might be in the townspeople’s best interest to zero out Article 25, now that the $60,000 is included in the operating budget. The Town Legal Counsel, however, said it would be better to amend Article 25 to $1, to avoid “no means no.”

Thomas agreed to amend the article to $1, and in a show of hands, all but 2 voted in favor. The amended article was sent to the warrant.

Article 8, the police contract, was amended by Selectman Welch, with a second by Selectman Wood, to read that the contract is for a five-year period. The change was approved and the article moved to the warrant.

Article 11, purchase of a $205,000 dump truck with plow for Public Works, generated considerable discussion but was sent to the warrant unchanged. The truck would replace a 1999 Freightliner dump truck.

When the article was presented, Tina Thomas said she understood the need but “before we start buying new equipment, we need to start repairing our roads.” She also said the Town should have a wash bay to clean off its vehicles, and moved to amend the article to $1.

Residents Carolyn Mathews and Doug Vogel spoke against the amendment.

Selectman Welch said the Town has looked into a wash bay, which he said would cost approximately $600,000. He noted that the Town currently has a plow rate of 3-1/2  hours, and with one vehicle out, it would go to 4-1/2 or 5 hours.

“Road conditions will get worse with less vehicles,” he said. “We’ve been maintaining our vehicles as best we can.” He also noted that water from truck washing must be hauled to a wastewater treatment plant in another community, at considerable expense.

Selectman Bemis added that he was surprised the Town trucks are still on the road, having “holes the size of your hand.”

Tina Thomas asked why subcontractors were not being used, but Selectman Welch said the Town uses two subcontractors to plow. “Not every subcontractor wants to work for a town,” he said. “And when they break down, they’re not available. We have to guarantee the roads stay open, and when we own the vehicle, we have to fix it.”

The motion to amend the article to $1 failed, and the original article was sent to the warrant.

Social Services

Article 12, social services funding in the total amount of $71,724, also generated some controversy. Dawn Merriman moved to amend it to zero, saying “it’s not the role of government to fund philanthropy.” James Merriman seconded the amendment.

Resident Susan Hilchey asked the residents to “please vote against (the amendment). I think these agencies are very important to our community and our citizens, and do a lot of good work where families and neighbors may not be able to help.”

Also speaking against the proposed cut were Neva Cole, Kathy Pouliot, Christina Vogel and Kathy McDonald.

James Merriman spoke in favor of the cut, saying the article “held people at gunpoint to give money to charity. It’s up to me and my family who I want to give money to.”

Resident Dana Hanson said she supported the cut. “I don’t like other people in the community telling me where my tax dollars are going,” she said.

Barnes said the social services funding article through the years has received the biggest percentage of yes votes. “The people of Raymond want to take care of people who need help,” he said, adding his favorite social service provider is Meals on Wheels. “Boy, does that save lives…Citizens of the Town of Raymond  have done an outstanding job over the years.”

Carol Watjus spoke in favor of the cut, saying it is not up to the Town to decide how much and to whom she gives her money. She added that Raymond residents would still receive social services from the listed agencies if the Town voted down funding.

Tina Thomas said she does not think government should tell her where her money should go. And when Selectman Welch noted that the agencies were providing some of the services Town Welfare once did, she said, “maybe it’s time to cut the Welfare Department in Raymond.”

A secret ballot was held on the amendment, with the vote 17 in favor, 49 opposed. The amendment failed.

Susan Hilchey then proposed an amendment that would increase Rockingham County Nutrition’s funding from $3,747 to $4,000 to better fund Meals on Wheels. James Merriman spoke out in opposition, and Selectman Barnes did as well, saying the Board of Selectmen did a thorough job in coming up with the amounts provided.

The proposed increase failed, and the original article was sent to the warrant without amendment.

Other Articles

The only other articles amended were 18 and 19 – 18 regarding the vacation and sick leave non-union fund, and 19 for the vacation and sick leave union fund.

Dawn Merriman proposed amending article 18, keeping the money amount as listed at $20,000 but taking the money out of the unreserved fund balance, with none of the sum coming from taxation.

Carol Watjus moved to amend article 19 to increase the money amount to $20,000 but to have it come out of the unreserved fund balance, with none of the sum coming from taxation.

The amendments to articles 18 and 19 were each approved, and the amended articles were forwarded to the warrant.

Capital Improvements

Article 14 -which would raise and appropriate $313,500, was amended by Nick Longo, who proposed keeping the $313,500 figure but taking the money from the unreserved fund balance “to reduce the tax impact,” and holding a secret ballot. Lee Weldy provided the second.

Carolyn Matthews spoke out against the amendment, saying “don’t mess around with the fund balance – that’s very dangerous to the town.”

That amendment failed, 28-33. The article was moved unchanged to the warrant, with the funding to come from taxation.

Also moved unchanged to the warrant were: Article 9 (police contract meeting), Article 10 (scholarship), Article 13 (mosquito spray), Article 15 (capital reserve funds – water revenues), Article 16 (road reconstruction), Article 17 (shim and overlay), Article 20 (veterans), Article 21 (July 4th celebration), Article 22 (Town Clerk/Tax Collector), Article 23 (ethics) and Article 24 (Keno). Article 1 is election of Town officials.

Candidates Night is Tuesday, Feb. 20 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Raymond High School Media Center, with a snow date of Thursday, Feb. 22. Write-in candidates are invited to announce their intentions to run for a position. The event is for town and school candidates.

To read a detailed description of what a YES vote versus a NO vote will mean visit the Raymond Voter Information Project Website.

To watch the town deliberative session on RCTV
click on 2018 Raymond Town Deliberative Session

Be Sure To Come Out and Vote on March 13.









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