PITTSFIELD, Maine — Town Manager James Ricker gave his department heads all the credit Friday for keeping their budgets low and using innovative, out-of-the-box thinking to become more efficient in 2008.
“We closed the books at $938,827.94,” Ricker said Friday. “That’s $98,000 stronger than last year.” He said transfer station manager Adam Noyes, Police Chief Leonard Macdaid and Fire Chief Jeff Chretien all turned back funds, and “none of them ran for the gate on December 31 to spend what they had left.”
Ricker said all department heads limited themselves to necessary expenditures only. “We’re talking a garage door, a light bar. These are not frivolous expenditures,” Ricker said.
He said the transfer station alone has consistently saved 15 to 20 percent each of the last three years because of increased efficiencies. “We have one of the best-looking facilities around and the staff do more with less every single year,” Ricker said.
Two of the hardest-hit accounts last year were public works — with increased sand and salt costs — and legal fees for enforcing land use violations. “Each one of those costs us $3,000 to $5,000. We also took a big hit in legal fees on the Whitaker Road and we never recovered anything from that.”
Whitaker Road was in a landowner dispute that caught Newport in the middle and forced the town to take the landowner to court to open and keep open the road for the Newport residents who lived along it.
But budgeting for 2009 was not easy, he admitted. “It will take constant monitoring,” he said.
The proposed $267,078 budget does not include the county tax or hydrant rental, Ricker said, and represents only a 0.0286 percent increase over 2008.
“We have cut to the bone,” he said. No new programs or positions have been added. No employee step increases have been budgeted.
“With all the gloom and doom about the economy and the gloom and doom regarding the state’s budget situation, one phrase rings true to me: Anticipated revenue will be down,” he said.
“What I’ve seen in my region, the Greater Newport area, is that we have a very diversified tax base here,” Ricker said. “Two things are certain: People want to keep a roof over their head, and they will eat. By the end of September, we were one-quarter of a million dollars ahead on pre-payment of taxes.”
In the 2009 budget, Ricker said one large increase was police salaries to bring officers up to the area average. Some of the increases are 10 percent to 18 percent. “This department is handling 6,000 complaints a year,” Ricker said. “They are handling more complaints than the town of Fairfield.”
Ricker said the selectmen will review the budget one final time next Wednesday and then the appointed budget committee will review it.
A town meeting will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 14, at the Sebasticook Valley Community Center. Ricker said two selectmen’s seats are open this year. They are both three-year terms and are filled by Chairman Al Worden and Chris Dow. Ricker said there appears to be considerable interest in the two seats.