Norwich Tries to Craft a Budget
No selectboard consensus on how to proceed.
Norwich's budget planning season formally opened at Wednesday's selectboard meeting. The agenda called for a discussion on the guidelines for drafting the FY 2018 budget. And the board had a wide-ranging discussion that showed how divided the body continues to be when it comes to town spending.
For starters, there are five people on the Norwich board, and the board had three different proposals on how to move forward.
Christopher Ashley and Stephen Flanders advocated drafting a budget that maintained the current level of town services.
"I'd like to see a modest increase, as in the last 5 years," said Ashley. "Most people appreciate the level of service we have. No cuts. No zero increases. The budget has passed overwhelming in the last few years."
Dan Goulet and Mary Layton favored level-funding the budget at current spending. Flanders responded with a challenge.
"Level funding means those people should be prepared to say where they want to cut, because there are built-in increases already for cost-of-living," Flanders argued.
Level funding of the budget probably means cutting back on town services -- since workforce costs, arguably the town's largest expense, increase by a predetermined amount each year based on a step system. The town's ability to cut back on other big expenses, such as fuel and road salt, is determined more by weather than by budget limits.
Goulet suggested that money could be saved through better management by department heads. He cited as an example watching the road crew doing dust control on a dirt road when rain was in the forecast.
"I would like to see better management of what we do," said Goulet.
Meanwhile, board Chair Linda Cook wants to draft a budget that cuts spending by five percent and she is willing to take a crack at cutting services.
"We offer many services above and beyond," said Cook. "Those are things I’m willing to write up and present."
Ashley told the board that if a decision is made to cut, the cutting should be made by the board and not the department heads. Past experience has shown that asking department heads to determine the cuts "may result in cuts for things like preventive maintenance, which will cost the town more in the long run."
Board members are expected to outline their suggested cuts at the next budget meeting on September 14.
You can see the full meeting on CATV's recording. Just click on the playlist for August and look for the Norwich Selectboard, August 24 meeting.