Voters don't mince words on budget

MERRIMACK – Here’s how short the town Deliberative Session was Tuesday: The Pledge of Allegiance was one of the longest parts.

In 15 speedy minutes, two spending articles totaling about $34 million moved forward to Election Day without a single public comment.

Town Moderator Lynn Christensen, who has held the post for about 20 years – even presiding once over a six-minute-long water district meeting – said she thought someone would say something.

“It was unusual to have no one speak to the budget,” she said. “I think it shows people were pleased with what the Town Council has done. If not, I think it will come out in the election process.”

As the 163 registered voters piled out of the meeting just moments after sitting down for it, a couple of town councilors also expressed surprise at the meeting’s length, which in past years had lasted several hours. The town even budgets extra time the following day in case commentary spills over.

“There were obviously no concerns communicated, which makes me feel good,” Councilor Nancy Harrington said.

Town Meeting ‘09

The council and town leaders have been working to pare back the budget so its associated tax rate wouldn’t go above the current figure of $4.23 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. They managed to float a budget that will call for a town tax rate next year of $4.19, which means a house assessed at $300,000 will see a town portion of $1,257.

Overall, voters will decide on a $31.59 million budget, which, after factoring in an accounting change, calls for spending $365,000 less than the current fiscal year.

To get there, the council approved a single-stream recycling program and took many other cost-saving measures, which included eliminating positions.

If the budget is approved, a transfer station attendant, part-time grounds worker, two part-time fire department employees and a planning assistant will be gone come July 1.

Voters will also consider $2.82 million for the engineering, construction oversight and an installation of new “dewatering” equipment to the wastewater facility, which would be bonded and paid for entirely through user fees.

The upgrade, Town Manager Keith Hickey said, will eliminate liquids from solid waste, thereby reducing disposal fees and electrical costs. The equipment will replace machinery that’s 40 years old and frequently breaks down, he said.

On voting day, the bond – to be paid for over the next 10 years – will require a two-thirds vote. Election Day is April 14.