Harrison looks to hold bottom line on property taxes
By Wayne E. Rivet
HARRISON — Bud Finch has a good handle on what it will cost to run the Town of Harrison for another year.
He has also been instructed to hold the bottom line on local taxes.
What could sidetrack Finch, however, is the school tax bill handed down from SAD 17.
“The budget process has taken a different track this year, which is fine, but complicates the process we have utilized the past six years. Other than the amount of time we have put into it the end result is expected to remain as targeted,” the town manager said. “The direction I have been given is to hold the bottom line on property taxes and we will make that happen on at least the municipal side of the budget when the work of my staff, the Budget Committee and the Board of Selectmen is completed.”
Finch noted at last week’s selectmen’s meeting that the big unknown remains with what the education budget will be.
“While there is some flexibility to hold the bottom line, we do have limits on what we control,” he said. “We are at a point on the municipal side of the budget we are only left with reduction in force, (RIF), as an alternative.”
Past mill rates were:
2015 — $10.95
2016 — $11.15
2017 — $10.95
2018 target — $10.95 to $11.15.
Currently projected at $11.07, Finch said the proposed budget is in the range he has been given, but “I still remain concerned about the final education numbers,” Finch said.
One item Finch addressed was legal expenditures “other than the norm, which accounts for about $2,500 per year under administration.”
The issue, Finch said, is how to deal with legal costs dealing with code enforcement.
“While winning and being reimbursed is always good, it most often falls out of the year the legal funds were expended with payment of legal fees and fines happening in another fiscal year,” he explained. “What is being recommended is that we set up a reserve account for legal services similar to accounts such as capital equipment and capital roads. This would be a self-funding account, where funds for expenses would be drawn down as necessary and all judgment revenues for legal fees and penalties would be reimbursed to that account. This would alleviate the need to project costs, which may not incur and revenues that may not incur into the annual property taxes.”
If all goes as planned, Finch hopes to have the budget wrapped up and presented to the public at the Thursday, April 9 selectmen’s meeting.
In other news:
Road Projects. Bids for the 2017 road projects will go out on Friday with a bid return date of March 31.
“Due to the extreme road issues this year, we have held off the bidding a bit longer to ensure there was no new damage on the roads scheduled to be paved that could cause unanticipated issues,” Finch reported. “We now feel confident the roads in question have survived what has been a tough winter on our road system.”
Dawes Hill Road, Deer Hill Road, Buck Road and Fog Road are scheduled for grinding and paving.
Town Farm Road will have ditching and culvert replacement in preparation for the following year.
A few short roads within the town center area, based on bid prices, will have paving work done, as well.
Town Office Parking Lot. With spring in the air, the town will once again begin the task of reconstructing the upper parking lot at the Town Office as soon as the ground is sufficiently dry enough to complete the project.
Contract negotiations with town employees covered by the bargaining unit are underway. Selectmen held an executive session to discuss current talks.
Employees at Public Works, the Transfer Station and one person at the Town Office are covered under the contract, which was created the year before Finch became town manager in 2010.
“This, I expect, will be their third three-year contract if negotiations go as expected,” Finch said.
Staying on? Finch also addressed his own employment as Harrison’s town manager.
“If the town desires to continue my services beyond December 2017, it is important we address it now — for if you are not, then we need to start the process for a replacement,” he told selectmen. “If you do not desire to continue my services, I am fine with that also. My personal desire to continue to serve the community is based on the desire of the town to continue my employment matched with my willingness to stay in Harrison. As long as I am wanted and I have the health to do so, I am willing to continue as your town manager.”
Finch initially applied to serve as an interim town manager, serving for about three to six months, in 2010 until the search for a permanent manager was completed.
Finch never left. His present tenure is six years, four months.
“I will be 68 in April and it is important to me to plan the latter stages of my life. If that means moving on, I will do so peacefully in my mind knowing I have served the town well,” he said. “Otherwise as noted, I will stay as long as the town continues to move forward, wants my services and I am capable of performing the duties.”
Finch added that he is “comfortable” with the continuation of the current arrangement, which he has worked under for a number of years. The contract would remain at the same salary of $69,160 with the same benefit package of $24,752.52 to cover health, dental and life insurance, vehicle/travel and cell phone, etc.
Selectmen plan to discuss the matter, including a possible contract extension to Dec. 31, 2020, at their March 23 meeting.
Quit claim deeds. Selectmen voted 4-0 to grant quit claim deeds to Terrance and Patricia Thompson on their tax-acquired parcels, Map 01, Lot 4-14, Lot 4-15, and Lot 4-A.
Financial Update, The municipal operation portion of the FY17 budget is “running tighter” than the town manager would prefer, after eight months, when compared with past years.
Finch said the end of fiscal year bottom line in June is still in projected to be in the black.
Administration remains the strongest at this point and is expected to be under budget at the end of the fiscal year by $20,000 or 4.7%. This is due to personnel changes that are still under evaluation as the town heads into the final phase of preparing next year’s budget.
Public Works is the one area where Finch is most concerned.
“This winter has been harsh on equipment, material (sand and salt) and personnel. I would like to tell you we are out of the woods, so to speak, but it is not uncommon to have storms into April,” he said. “We do have carry forward funds from last year’s milder winter, but it is too early to count on the final budget outcome.”
Fire & Rescue is running slightly over budget as Harrison had a lot of fire and rescue responses in the first half of the year. The second half started out as if it would average out, but the last week or so has once again seen an increase in calls.
Solid Waste & Transfer Station is pretty much on target for this time of year and expectations for the end of the fiscal year in June.
Parks & Recreation is on track and should finish the year on target.
Insurance, Public Safety and Community Services are all on track with expectations of being slightly under budget.