Salaries frozen for some workers

MERRIMACK – The Board of Selectmen has voted in closed session to freeze salaries of all nonunion employees as part of a slate of initiatives to hold down taxes next year.

The freeze will impact more than 50 employees, mainly Town Hall department heads, said board Chairman Dick Hinch, who announced the results of the vote Tuesday at a budget workshop.

The vote on Nov. 6 to freeze the salaries was 4-1, with Selectman Tony Pelligrino voting against the motion.

“It’s one more example of some of the tough decisions we have to make as we enter into the budgeting process,” Hinch said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

“This was not an easy decision at all for the board. Those affected will not be happy, but having said that, they are all very dedicated professionals and understand the need to take these steps based upon what is presently facing our town.”

With taxpayers socked by tax bills up an average of 19 percent this year, town and school officials are under the gun to hold down next year’s spending as much as possible.

In September, the Board of Selectmen agreed to a 3 percent cap on increases for controllable expenses in each department’s spending.

Under the cap, the town’s portion of the tax rate was projected to rise to $5.69 per $1,000 of assessed value, which would have been an increase of 12.8 percent over the current rate.

To further hold down the tax rate, selectmen voted last week to direct department heads to cut their budgets by 5 percent, saving $1.3 million from a proposed town budget of about $26 million. That cut lowered the projected municipal tax rate to $5.05, a penny more than the current rate.

To meet the 5 percent reduction, some departments have had to eliminate positions. The Police Department, for example, has eliminated the school resource officer at Merrimack High School, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education officer, the animal control officer and a part-time clerk.

There also are projected layoffs in the Public Works and Community Development departments.

School officials face the same budget crunch. The School Board voted in principle to hold down controllable costs without setting a specific cap.

Superintendent of Schools Marge Chiafery said she expects some difficult cuts to be made in the school district budget.

The board will hold its first budget workshop Sunday at 5:30 p.m. at the high school.