Harrison board to alternate business meetings with workshops

By Gail Geraghty
Staff Writer

HARRISON — New Town Manager George “Bud” Finch wants the Harrison Board of Selectmen to limit business meetings to one per month, and hold a second meeting as a workshop session to discuss ways to save the town money.

The three board members present at the Dec. 21 meeting — Eddie Rolfe, Bill Winslow and Kathy Laplante — seemed amenable to Finch’s suggestion. Rolfe said he would meet with Finch to give him a list of proposed workshop topics to be discussed at the January meeting.

The issue came up as Rolfe noted how “overstretched” all budgets were this year at the state, county and municipal levels.

“We ought to discuss how we can save money in this town, and it’s got to start at the grassroots,” Rolfe said.

Finch said that has been exactly where he has been heading since taking over the job. He’s spent many hours working on spreadsheets to track spending over the past five years, but “it’s kind of handicapped to do my job when I can’t speak to the board as a whole” to get an idea of what the priorities are, he said.

“As strange as it sounds, there’s very little to squeeze out of what we have in our operating budget when you break it down to the budgets you have control over,” he said. “It’s easy to cut the budget, but cutting the budget alone isn’t the answer. It’s being sure you know where baseline zero is.”

Finch said once a topic is selected, he’d bring all the data related to that topic “and we would talk about how do we become more efficient.” He said improvements can always be made in productivity, as well as in the area of cost avoidance. “We should be getting our best deals,” he said.

For example, Finch said he spent the better part of the previous evening studying all of the town’s electricity costs.

“I fully expect that before we get to town meeting, we’re going to have a better understanding of all that than we’ve ever had,” Finch said. A spending chart would allow the board to compare expenses going back five years, and the average amount spent on any line item each month. “If there’s a significant blip, we’ll be looking at it.”

Finch said he has already purchased a laptop computer from the computer budget to use in creating the data needed both while he is at work and while working from home. He plans to create PowerPoint presentations, singling out each department’s spending, and including pictures of all town buildings and all town equipment, describing their condition and suggesting a financial plan for repairs or replacement.

“That’s the data that we’ve got to do a better job at, and the computer allows us to do it — and the public has a right to expect it,” he said.

The workshop sessions would be done in conjunction with the work of the town’s budget committee. The board agreed with Finch’s recommendation that the new committee be formed in January. An advertisement will go out asking for interested residents to submit their names no later than Friday, Jan. 14, and the committee would be appointed by the board at the next meeting after that date.

Finch said he’s aware of some interest in having an elected budget committee, but said that couldn’t happen this year because there is currently no ordinance allowing for it.

“I’m not awfully sure in this day and age that that’s the best way to go,” he said of an elected budget committee, but added he would add the question to the warrant for the next town meeting if requested to do so.

“Part of the problem I see with the election of a budget committee is that it’s hard enough to get people to volunteer to serve, and when it comes to an election it becomes even harder. I can live with it either way, but what’s more important is that you have a diverse part of the community covering all of your committees,” he said.

The reactivation of the Conservation Commission was also discussed as Connie Allen was voted in by the board as the fifth member to serve. Four other members appointed earlier in the year were Jamie Dayton, John Evinger, Richard Jenning and Lorraine Miclos.

Finch said state statutes allow the town to appoint five to seven members, and he recommended the town hold to five members for now. He recommended the commission begin meeting and come back to the board with a written statement of vision and mission so the board can decide whether to adopt it.

“Personally I feel the reason these organizations die down is that there are so many statewide organizations active now that it doesn’t get as involved on a local municipal level as it once did,” Finch said. He cited the ongoing conservation mapping work of the Greenprint Project by the Loon Echo Land Trust and the Trust for Public Lands as example.

The board also issued a quitclaim deed to Christopher Hershey for buildings and property at 5 Rocky Point Road. The town had foreclosed on the property after three years of non-payment of taxes after not being able to locate the owner.

However, the mortgage holder recently was able to locate the owner and arranged for payment in full of all back taxes.

“I’m not sure why it got to the point it did, but we’ll be sure to be on top of these things in the future,” Finch said.

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