Voters leery to OK spending

MONT VERNON – With the nationwide recession looming on their minds, voters at this year’s Town Meeting were in the mood to cut spending.

“We could make an argument for every one of these warrants, but we’re in tough economic times, and it’s not going to get easier anytime soon,” resident Jeff Wall said at Tuesday night’s meeting at the Mont Vernon Village School. “It doesn’t say down the road we can increase the budget as necessary, but right now, we need to be very wise how we spend our money.”

Among warrant articles for which taxpayers will foot the bill, only Article 6, a $20,000 article to replace rusting columns at the town-owned McCollum Building, and Article 7, a motion to appropriate $22,000 to refurbish one of the town’s fire trucks, passed as presented.

Article 5, $34,000 for a state-mandated update to the town’s assessed property valuation, was passed only when its dollar amount was reduced to zero.

Article 8, a $30,000 appropriation for the town’s Fire Truck Capital Reserve, and Article 9, a $10,000 appropriation for the Conservation Commission fund, were also zeroed out.

The mood against spending got to the point that library trustee Cindy Raspiller suggested that Article 10, a $10,000 addition to the Library Capital Reserve Fund, be voted down because there’s no room to expand the library on its current site anyway. Voters took her advice and voted down the article.

The $1,905,864 operating budget was pared down by $27,751, to $1.88 million.

Part of that came when Selectman Paul Apple made an amendment to remove the cost-of-living adjustments for the town employees, a sentiment echoed by selectmen’s Chairman John Esposito.

“If you think any cut is an easy decision, you’re wrong,” said Esposito. “I’ll be the first one to vote for a raise next year, but for now, we all have to bite the bullet.”

The voters then went through each line of the budget, cutting the salary for the deputy town clerk along with miscellaneous office salaries in the selectmen’s office.

An amendment to cut a new part-time police officer’s position was withdrawn only after it was made clear that doing so would leave the town with no police coverage Sundays.

In the end, the only other monetary item that was received with popular approval in its original state was Article 11, to appropriate $79,845 for road reconstruction. Esposito explained that the article was being funded by state aid and when a voter asked for details, a person in the crowd yelled, “It’s free money!” drawing a laugh from an audience that wasn’t in a laughing mood the rest of the night.