Hampden gets creative with budget

Posted April 10, 2009, at 7:41 p.m.

HAMPDEN, Maine — When Hampden Town Manager Sue Lessard sat down to craft the 2010 fiscal year municipal budget, she had two goals: no layoffs and no drop-off in services.

Meeting those goals has taken a little creativity, but Lessard and Hampden town councilors have come up with a concept they hope will ensure taxpayers are not affected.

“We wanted to flat-fund the budget on the municipal side,” she said. “Not because we’re not fiscally healthy, but more because of the current economy and the uncertainty that surrounds that. It would be wrong for us to proceed business as usual.”

Among the proposed changes are: forgoing cost-of-living increases for all municipal employees, including police and fire, modifying employee health insurance plans and altering hours at the Hampden town office. All told, the changes will save an estimated $200,000, which will help keep the town tax rate the same as the previous year.

“I’m really proud of our employees for embracing these changes, some of which really require a sacrifice on their part,” Lessard said.

Hampden Deputy Mayor Andre Cushing said the budget ideas have been well-received so far, although they will not be officially voted on until June.

“This is just another example to me of what a great manager we have,” he said. “She’s so conscientious about how she approaches issues. And these changes have been taken in the right spirit. Most employees recognize that what hurts one tends to affect us all.”

While town staff and councilors have two months to hash out the budget particulars, Lessard said the town would begin new municipal hours on a trial basis beginning the first full week of May.

Right now, the Hampden town office is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Beginning May 4, the office will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, but will be closed Friday.

Lessard said in order for the town to save money on heating and cooling costs, closing down on Fridays made the most sense.

“It needs to be three days in a row to really make a difference,” she said. “But really, these changes allow some people who have strict work schedules to come in before or after work.”

Waiving the cost-of-living increase for employees required police and fire officials to open their union contract, something Lessard said the union was more than willing to do.

“They understood and agreed that we need to continue to provide the same level of service,” she said.

Cushing agreed that everyone has been willing to help out during these tough times.

“Instead of sticking our head in the sand, we’re saying, ‘What can we do?’” he said. “In a municipal budget, there are no large areas you can cut from, so we had to find a number of little ways. I’m proud of the people that work in Hampden and the sacrifice they are willing to make. It shows a real sense of respect and cooperation.”

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