NORTH YARMOUTH – The Board of Selectmen took actions Tuesday that could both reduce and increase town spending.
On one hand, selectmen voted to adjust employee wages and benefits so that some higher-paid staff will see small decreases.
On the other hand, selectmen discussed capital improvement purchases for 2009, including  the purchase of a truck/plow that could require taxpayers to provide an additional $70,000 if approved at Town Meeting. They also discussed tax assistance funds that could raise the property tax rate by one cent.
All this came at the same meeting where a paid part-time clerk first took her place at the selectmen’s table and goals for holding the line in next year’s budget were discussed.
While the town has previously announced that excise tax revenue is still meeting expectations halfway through the fiscal year, figures were announced Tuesday that put expected impact fee revenue falling $33,000 short. Impact fees are charged for new buildings and development; the town has raised $12,000 of a budgeted $45,000 and does not expect much more construction to occur.
In reaction to economic realities, many area towns have cut employees and/or pay and benefits, schools have frozen spending, and many projects and purchases have been put on hold.
On Tuesday, selectmen voted to increase town employee pay by 2 percent to accommodate cost-of-living increases, but opted not to increase benefits to follow the 6 percent increase in insurance costs. Until now, long-time employees have had 100 percent of their insurance covered by the town; new employee benefits are paid on an 80/20 ratio, so that employees pay 20 percent of health-care costs.
Though selectmen said their action was not intended to cut wages, some of the higher-paid employees will see actual cash decreases of a couple hundred dollars because of increased health-care costs.
Chairman Paul Napolitano said he is concerned that the town is “trying to cut the budget on the backs of the employees.” But the motion passed 3-2, with Napolitano and Selectman Carol Burgess opposed.
The employee wage discussion came just after a paid secretary was introduced to the board. The position was advertised on the town Web site and the pay rate was set between $12.50 and $15.50 per hour for recording minutes at meeting of the Board of Selectmen and Planning Board. Town Administrator Scott Tilton said that funding existed in the budget for a part-time clerk.
Selectmen also discussed the purchase of two trucks in 2009 – one so the town can get rid of a 1989 truck used for parks and cemeteries, and another to replace a 1994 plow/dump truck.
The plow purchase is underfunded by about $71,000, so it could require additional taxpayer funding if approved at Town Meeting.
Some selectmen were concerned about the purchase in this economy, especially since Road Foreman Clark Baston suggested that the truck might last a few years longer if some repairs are made. Baston said he hopes the truck can remain in service as a back-up.
Selectmen Mark Verrill wanted to see the town run the truck as long as it could. “Lets drive these trucks and get everything out of them that we can,” he said. “That’s why this town is in the (good) financial shape that we are. We’re cheap.”
Other selectmen and members of the public were concerned that the truck could break down and leave more work for other plows, and that in the end repairs could be more costly than replacement.
Selectmen voted unanimously to seek bids, although a final purchase is still subject to town approval.
Funding a tax assistance ordinance was briefly discussed by selectmen. The funding, which passed unanimously but is still subject to Town Meeting approval, would increase the mil rate by a penny, and provide up to $300 in assistance to the first 17 eligible applicants.
The final financial discussion by selectmen included setting a goal for the Budget Committee in creating next year’s budget. Selectmen agreed unanimously that the budget should not exceed an increase of $53,000, which is the maximum increase that does not require Town Meeting approval.
A budget committee meeting was scheduled for this Thursday, Feb. 5, at 6 p.m. in the Town Office meeting room. The meeting is open to the public.
In other business, Verrill suggested the town discuss making sidewalk maintenance seasonal because of parking problems. Verrill said he he hopes that not maintaining sidewalks in winter will cut costs and help deal with the problem. The change would require Town Meeting approval.
A public workshop on the issue is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 6, at 8:30 a.m. at the Town Offices.

Sarah Trent can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 108 or [email protected]

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