T he news did not get any better for the Whitehall town budget in the past week.
At the public hearing on the preliminary 2011 spending plan on Nov. 4, town budget officer Kathy Jones said there was an increase to the tax rate due to new figures.
“We got new information about retirement figures,” said Jones. “In 2010, we paid $10,650 into the retirement program. This year, we will be paying $22,111 and next year it is projected to be at $35,000. As a result, I decided to split the difference between the two years so we do not get hammered even more in 2012.”
The retirement change moved the tax rate increase in the 2011 preliminary budget from $4.89 per $1,000 of assessed property value – an increase from $4.33 in 2010 – to $4.92.
Members of the board discussed several factors in the budget increase, including state funding cuts, increases in insurance and retirement along with a decrease in the overall assessed value of the town residential property.
“The cost of things has not gone down, that is for sure,” said Jones. “Since your assessment went down, your rate is going to go up event if we were to have a zero-increase on the budget.”
“Since the value of houses went down, there are some things that are going to rise,” said Councilman Richard LaChapelle. “If you go and cut more things now, you are going to end up paying double next year. We did a good job cutting things this year, and if we cut anymore it’s going to be that much more worse for the next budgets.”
“When we sat down to go over this last time, we lopped off a lot and we only came up with a difference of two cents off the tax rate,” said Councilman Farrell Prefountaine. “How much more would we have to do to get it down further.”
A total of 10 people turned out for the public hearing, with responses in favor of the plan.
“I can’t fight you on a 59-cent increase,” said Carol Greenough. “I don’t see any reason to cut this budget down further, and I am not a wealthy person.”
“I don’t think you guys are to blame for anything,” said Wayne Senecal. “I remember when I was on the school board the state came to us and told us that we would never have to pay into the retirement system because there was enough money there to last forever. Now look at where we are at.”
Penny Hollister offered her opinion on an area where the budget could be trimmed.
“I think that the salaries over at the rec center are too high,” said Hollister. “It’s nothing personal or against anyone over there because I like them and think they do a good job, but in this time I think that they are overpaid, and that’s my opinion.”
Board members met again on Monday, Nov. 8, to take a final look at the budget before a vote sometime before Nov. 20, and said for the most part, they were pleased with what they had.
“I do not see where we can cut much more,” said Jim Putorti. “As far as the two-percent raises go for full-time employees, that’s not that much when you look at the whole picture.”
“My only thought would be if we can drop the fire department a little,” said Councilman David Hollister. “I am a proponent of giving them what they need, but maybe this year it’s too high.”
The board did not change the increase, leaving the fire department funding at $89,000, up $15,000 from the 2010 budget.