Casco Finance Committee review budget

By Dawn De Busk
Staff Writer

CASCO — Oh no, it’s budget season again.

On Tuesday, March 1, a few members of the Casco Finance Committee appeared before town officials expressing concerns that Casco’s 2011-12 budget was not being reviewed soon enough.

The subject of when to start focusing on the preliminary budget divided the audience into two camps: those people who believe it is best to start reviewing the town budget at least six months in advance — if not earlier, and residents who believe two months is sufficient time to prepare the upcoming fiscal year’s budget for the selectmen’s approval prior to town meeting.

At times during the Casco Board of Selectmen meeting, four or five people were lined up to speak at the microphone — to weigh in on how to approach the approximately $2,750,000 town budget.

People compared the budget time frame of other towns in the region, and many shared experiences as committee members trying to prepare recommendations for a sound budget.

The most pertinent information that emerged during the discussion: The Finance Committee has been scheduled to meet for the next six weeks every Wednesday at 7 p.m. Meetings will be held March 16, March 23, March 30, April 6, April 13, and April 20.

[stextbox id="info" float="true" align="right"]

What: Casco Finance Committee reviews 2011-12 town budget.

Where: Casco Community Center meeting room.

When: 7 p.m. on the following Wednesdays – March 16, March 23, March 30, April 6, April 13, April 20.

[/stextbox]

According to Town Manager Dave Morton, last year’s budget was $2,764,434. He said there could be a 2.84 percent increase, but some changes could bring that increase closer to zero.

“The numbers I have presented to the Finance Committee are for a preliminary budget. This is the start,” Morton said during a phone interview on Monday.

During the six-week schedule, the Finance Committee will discuss recommendations. Selectmen may also attend the budget review meetings, but it is not required, Morton said.

“By the end of April, we’ll have a proposed budget,” he said. There is a deadline of early May for the proposed budget to be printed in time for town meeting on June 8, he said.

Morton said for the past few years, the Finance Committee has adhered to a six-week schedule in providing its recommendations to the budget.

He added that timeline works well for many other towns, as people sitting on budget-review committees “ask the question you always ask yourself, which is: ‘Can we do more for less money?’”

However, the decision of when to start that budget process is in the hands of the Finance Committee.

“That’s up to the Finance Committee – they decide the level of involvement they want,” he said.

On March 1, Finance Committee member Jeannine Oren brought up her concerns about putting off budget-review meetings until crunch time.

Her presentation to the board of selectmen had been placed at the end of the agenda — and was at the request of Selectman Carroll Morton.
“I am here to say the Finance Committee hasn’t met yet on the budget,” Oren said, adding a more aggressive schedule was needed to tackle the budget.

She said the proposed budget she had received lacked the details necessary for the committee to make its decisions. She requested the 2010 Annual Audit from the board.

Oren said she was disappointed with the lack of gusto on the part of the Finance Committee to focus on the budget sooner. Her expectations had been that it would “begin budget work in earnest in August.”

“We haven’t met to look at the budget,” she said.

“My understanding is the finance committee is supposed to make recommendations,” she said following the meeting. “For example, we need to look at capital improvement projects. Walter’s (Hebold) presentation is 1 of 15 road projects that we are looking at. His presentation was a half-hour long. On the Finance Committee, we are required to look at all 15 road projects,” she said.

In an earlier presentation, Walter Hebold, with the Crescent Lake Watershed Association, had pitched a box culvert project as one that should be put on the list of capital improvement projects for next fall.

As a former Finance Committee member, resident Wayne Ward agreed more details would assist the decision-making process.

Ward said towns like Raymond and Windham start six months in advance. He said neighboring Naples started meeting in late January or early February.

Resident Pat Troy shared a news article about the Town of Norway, in which the town manager purposely starts its budget process late because most people lose interest after the first four weeks.

“Let’s not get our knickers all knotted up and wounded,” Troy told everyone. “Stay calm.”

Please follow and like us: