The Town of Hampton has tied the fate of contract negotiations with its volunteer fire department to Washington County’s 2014 fiscal budget.
The town board did not accept the Hampton Volunteer Fire Department’s latest proposal last week, choosing instead to see exactly how the county’s proposed budget shakes out.
“I think it’s (the department’s proposal) too high,” Councilperson Tamme Taran said, “but the county is a piece of that.”
Last month, the town presented the fire department with a one-year $31,984 contract proposal, a figure that represents a 15 percent increase over its previous offer.
Members, however, rejected that offer during a public meeting last Thursday.
“We went over the numbers and crunched our numbers and we have to decline,” Eric Mead, president of the department, said.
Members countered by asking for an additional 5 percent, for a total increase of 20 percent. That 5 percent increase represents a difference of $1,390 above what the town’s most recent offer.
“We need to be able to put money away just like the highway department does for equipment,” Mead said. “At our current rate it would be 50 years before we could afford a new truck.”
“There’s no way we can prepare for capital expenditures when we can barely cover our operating costs.”
Although members of the board admitted the request was not unreasonable they said they couldn’t accept the offer.
“I, myself, don’t think we can raise the budget anymore,” Councilman Dave Jensen said.
The town is currently eying a 2.77 percent increase in the tax levy based on its preliminary 2014 budget. That figure, however, does not include any increase for the fire department. Officials said a 15 percent increase in funding—as proposed by the town—would increase the overall tax levy by nearly 4.3 percent and 5.1 percent in fire district one.
If the town accepted the department’s latest proposal, the overall tax levy would increase by 4.7 percent while the levy in fire district one would increase 5.8 percent. Members of the board felt that increase was too much for taxpayers to bear.
“I can’t see it,” Councilperson Herb Sady said.
“I think 5 percent is too high,” Taran said.
Supervisor Dave O’Brien was the lone member of the board who was open to accepting the offer.
“I think we should do it. The tax rate is the tax rate, but sometimes you have to bite the bullet,” he said.
Although O’Brien told the board that the county’s budget was unlikely to change (officials are eyeing a 2.6 percent tax increase) much before its finalized, members of the board said they would like to see where the final numbers lie before issuing a final decision on the department’s latest proposal.
Taran said county taxes are part of every resident’s overall tax bill and they and town taxes need to be considered together when determining the affect on local citizens.
The county is expected to meet tomorrow and debate any changes to its budget. It’s possible the board of supervisors will decide to then whether to accept or reject fiscal plan.
The Hampton Town Board will meet again on Nov. 20 and decide what increase it will give its fire department. The matter will need to be resolved during that meeting because, by law, the town must adopt a budget by that date.
“Maybe we can brainstorm another idea between now and then,” Councilman Dave Perry said.
Tax levy override
No matter what decision the town makes, it will have the legal jurisdiction to override the 2 percent limit on increases to the tax cap.
The board voted last Thursday to approve a law that gives it the ability to override the cap.
“I hate to raise taxes, but we have no choice,” Sady said.
The town has penciled into its preliminary budget a 2.77 percent increase, which falls below the cap after taking into consideration into allowable exclusions (the town could actually increase taxes by as much as 3.66 percent and still comply with the cap). But that number will certainly increase after a decision is made on the fire department.
The law passed by a 4-1 margin with Perry the only member who rejected the law.
Changes on planning board
The town appointed Francis Baker to the planning board.
Baker, who is currently the town’s highway superintendent, had been serving as alternate to the board and applied to be a full-time member after Tim Richards stepped down.
O’Brien said there were at least two residents interested in serving as alternates.
The next meeting will be held at 7 p.m. (30 minutes earlier than normal) on Wednesday, Nov. 20.