Board puts new budget on table

MERRIMACK – After a final round of adjustments late Thursday, the Board of Selectmen sent a proposed 2005-06 operating budget of $25.4 million to the Budget Committee.

Although that budget doesn’t include special warrant articles, the best apples-to-apples comparison for the proposed spending plan is with the current $24.8 million operating budget with special warrant articles, said Bob Levan, the town finance director.

The proposed budget for next year is up 2.4 percent over that figure.

Levan explained that some capital reserve accounts and a $10,000 expense for eradicating milfoil from Horseshoe Pond were approved at the last Town Meeting in April. Funding for those accounts are contained in the operating budget this year, Levan said.

“That’s a pretty good comparison,” Levan said.

Without the special warrant articles, the current operating budget alone is $24.5 million. The proposed budget is up 3.65 percent over that figure.

The selectmen accepted every budget change Selectmen’s Chairman Dick Hinch proposed at the meeting. The changes included cuts in 16 line items and additions in four other, for a net reduction of more than $600,000 from the proposal submitted by the interim town manager and department heads.

“I was very pleased with the support of the board for the suggestions that I made,” Hinch said.

He called the proposed budget a “prudent” plan able to maintain staffing levels and services.

“The cuts that we made, difficult as they were, we’re able to live with,” he said.

Special warrant articles that selectmen will discuss later will include a collective bargaining agreement and a proposal to establish a new capital reserve account for a South Merrimack Fire Station, he said.

Late Thursday, selectmen made additional cuts in overtime accounts in the Buildings and Grounds Department and increased funding for consultants, economic development and Horse Hill Nature Preserve planning and management under the Community Development Department.

The spending plan now goes to the Budget Committee for a series of meetings in January, at which the committee could reduce or increase individual line items. Residents will be asked to approve the budget at the 2005 Town Meeting in April.

“Hopefully, we made the Budget Committee’s work easy. The department heads and the interim town manager (Bill Mulligan) did a great job. I can’t say enough good things about the job he and Bob Levan did,” Hinch said. “As always, they came through for us. We didn’t have to get into the paper clips and pencils of the budget.”