Machias voters cut budget

Posted June 04, 2009, at 8:55 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — Voters took more than two hours Wednesday to cut about $15,000 from the town’s 2009-10 budget.

About 60 of the town’s 1,700 residents attended the meeting.

Most of the cuts will come from employee cost-of-living increases and salaries.

The proposed total town and school budget was more than $2.7 million, about a 10 percent increase over last year’s.

Of that, the school budget was $1.5 million. Voters went to the polls Tuesday and approved the school budget 244-127.

Voters on Wednesday night addressed the proposed $1.2 million portion of the municipal budget. “They amended a number of articles,” Town Manager Betsy Fitzgerald said Thursday.

During the meeting, voters reduced the administrative salary budget by $8,178. Although the cut was supposed to eliminate any cost-of-living increases previously approved by the Board of Selectman, Fitzgerald said the cut was large enough to decrease employee salaries somewhat.

Fitzgerald said selectmen had approved cost-of-living increases for nonunion employees because it was something they had done in the past to keep those salaries in line with union cost-of-living increases. “The union contract [involves a cost of living adjustment] so the board had always made it a policy to treat all of the employees the same,” she said.

Cuts will come from the town manager’s $46,645 salary; the finance director’s $41,185 salary; the town clerk’s $27,593 salary; and the administrative assistant’s $22,568 salary, Fitzgerald said.

As of Thursday, Fitzgerald had not yet crunched the numbers so did not know how the changes would affect individual employees.

The public works director’s $34,665 salary also is going to take a hit. “His line was cut $4,012,” she said of his cost-of-living and salary increases.

Although there was some discussion about cutting cost-of-living increases for employees of the Machias Police Department, voters learned that the officers, except for the chief, belonged to a union so they could not cut those increases without incurring legal problems, Fitzgerald said.

Cuts also were made to the recreation department. “They decided with that one to reduce the amount of the recreation budget by whatever interest was available from an account we did not have the number for,” she said. Fitzgerald estimated Thursday the cut would be $1,000.

While voters trimmed salaries, they did not cut debt service for a new police cruiser and a plow truck. Fitzgerald said that town vehicles were old and it made sense to buy new vehicles rather than spend thousands of dollars on repairs.

“Certainly the plow truck can be justified that we spent about $30,000 on vehicle repairs because we have an old fleet,” she said. “By purchasing a new [truck], the debt service amount is about $17,000. If you hold $17,000 in payment in one hand or about $30,000 in repairs in the other one, what would you do?” Fitzgerald said the town’s oldest police cruiser also was costing a lot in repairs.

What hurt the town’s budget and caused the increase this year, Fitzgerald said, were cuts in federal and state revenues. She estimated the town lost 22 percent in state and federal revenues, and 26 percent in interest income. Banks aren’t paying the interest rates they once did, she said.

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