Deerfield plugs hole in budget
SOUTH DEERFIELD — By squeezing a lean budget and using surplus, the town has balanced its budget for the coming year while avoiding a Proposition 2 ½ tax override.
With six business days left before the annual town meeting, the selectmen and Finance Committee crunched numbers for three hours Tuesday night, cutting department budgets here and there and knocking percentage increases down to 2.5.
By the end of the meeting, they had decreased the $97,000 deficit to $69,000.
The town will cover the rest of the deficit with surplus money. The town will use a total of $489,398 of surplus to balance its budget.
The selectmen were adamant against asking voters to consider a tax override.
While there will be no override, taxpayers can expect a tax hike.
The average homeowner with a house valued at $270,000 can expect to pay about $500 more in property taxes — $200 of which is for the new highway garage.
While the town may have avoided an override this year, it may be faced with the question next year as outside revenues decrease and expenses continue to rise.
“At some point, we’re going to have to do it,” said Finance Committee member John Paciorek.
Selectman Carolyn Shores Ness said the town will be more aggressive this summer and ask tax-exempt nonprofits to pitch in more to the town coffers.
Selectmen have already approached the nonprofits, like Deerfield Academy, this year, but they have received no commitments.
The final budget meeting was at times tense as board members tried to figure out where to cut from the already lean budget.
“Some $250 here and there isn’t going to do it. One thousand here and there will do it,” Finance Committee member Tom Clark said.
Finance Committee Chairman Albert “Skip” Olmstead suggested eliminating the $10,120 total salaries for elected officials for next year.
“It doesn’t even cover my gas,” Shores Ness balked.
The town officials cut $2,000 from the Planning Board budget, $5,000 from the Tilton Library expenses, $268 from the Tri-town Beach, and $15,000 from the retirement reserves.
The police expense budget was dropped to $77,000 from the requested $81,600.
The police budget sparked debate as some members wanted to decrease the budget and others worried cutting it would impact the department’s ability to purchase needed equipment.
“We can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Clark sighed.
Shores Ness said the police need tasers and Breathalzyers that will stand up in court.
“They were originally purchased with community policing money. That no longer exists,” Shores Ness said.
“I’d like to stop running the Police Department,” Selectman Chairman Mark Gilmore said. “We’re trying to figure out what they need or not and there is no one at this table that can answer those questions. We’re trying to get to the closest number we can and figure out how to finance this thing.”
The ambulance budget was untouched and the town will be asked to pay $387,999 for the new South County Emergency Medical Service. The town has saved $2,000 from the ambulance this year due to the delayed startup of the regional ambulance, Gilmore said.
With some in Deerfield are still skeptical of the regional service, the question was raised whether townspeople will support the paramedic service this year.
“My issue is I think there’s a less expensive way of doing it,” Olmstead said.
Gilmore countered that while the service is costly, the 24/7 paramedic coverage is worth it.
The budget reductions follow a stressful two weeks for the town after it learned it had to plug a roughly $200,000 hole.
The selectmen considered many options, including postponing town meeting. It asked department heads to review their budgets again.
The Deerfield Elementary School Committee shaved $92,951 off its budget. The highway director took $87,000 surplus from the transfer station budget and put it toward the snow and ice budget to balance the budget.
You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 413-772-0261 ext. 268 or @RecorderKatMcK
(Editor's note: Some information in this story has changed from an earlier edition.)