Council gets sobering fiscal update

MERRIMACK – Here’s one idea most towns probably haven’t considered to battle the horrendous economy, or at least not out loud: buy a lottery ticket.

That’s what Rep. Bob L’Heureux, R-Merrimack, jokingly suggested to town councilors Thursday night during a discussion about potential state and federal impacts on local finances.

Most of the news was much more sobering, however, as Merrimack’s legislative delegation and local leaders took a look at some of the numbers that could face the town in the coming months.

Initially, Gov. John Lynch’s budget proposal would have chopped $1.4 million in state money to Merrimack by way of rooms and meals revenue, shared revenues and a decrease in the state’s contribution to retirement of Merrimack teachers, firefighters and police officers. Lynch had said federal stimulus money would fill the gaps.

Recently, Lynch backed down a bit, but Hickey said Thursday that the town may still end up plugging a state-created $300,000 hole by June 30 – the end of the fiscal year.

And, if whispers that the state may further reduce its local retirement contributions are true, Merrimack would have to come up with an additional $56,000. Such a plan would have to be approved by the House and Senate.

Town Councilor Tim Tenhave expressed frustration that local leaders just spent three months paring down a proposed budget, but that state leaders – barring the local contingent – haven’t done the same.

“We trimmed deep,” Tenhave said. “We’re taking away employees and postponing activities. If we lose more money now, we’re going to have to dig even deeper . . . There’s going to be a tea party one of these days.”

Rep. Pete Batula, R-Merrimack, pointed to what he viewed as problems with the federal stimulus package trickling into the state.

Batula said that $19 million will be available for drinking water-related improvements, but 265 applications have already been received with a total of $250 million in requests.

There’s a similar story with bridge repair work, Batula said. Already, 500 requests have been received, vying for a pool of $15 million.

“There’s a whole lot of expectations coming from the stimulus,” Batula said. “Unfortunately, the stimulus was put in place to produce jobs, and we’re now going to be using it to balance budgets and that sort of thing. The only thing I can tell you is, we’ll fight as hard as we can for the town of Merrimack.”

There was some good news when representatives told councilors about some money that may be available for projects with Merrimack ties.

Rep. Chris Christensen, R-Merrimack, said he attended a meeting with state transportation officials regarding stimulus funds.

He learned that the state would plan to use $20 million toward the airport access road, which would carry traffic from the F.E. Everett Turnpike in Bedford into northwest Londonderry to the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.

That money means the $30 million project could wrap up two years ahead of schedule – somewhere in 2011, as estimated.

Also, Christensen said, the state Department of Environmental Services anticipates receiving $62 million, some of which may be used for dam repairs and flood controls on the Souhegan River.

That would be significant to many residents who live downstream, specifically in the Beacon and Island drive areas.

Karen Lovett can be reached at 594-6402 or