NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

October 24, 2013

New guidelines cause confusion at Town Meeting

(Continued)

Webster wondered why the town couldn’t work within the budget voters had already approved. He felt the need for the overages wasn’t sufficiently explained and objected to funding such a substantial expense at the fall Special Town Meeting, which he said generally has a lower voter turnout than the annual meeting.

That wasn’t the case this year, however. Tuesday night’s meeting had 62 registered voters, with just 69 of the town’s 5,200 registered voters attending the annual meeting last May. A quorum of 40 is needed.

Finance Committee chairman Frank Remley said the request was being made now “because we’re not perfect forecasters of what our revenues will be.” He described it as “a mid-year correction,” noting that due to higher receipts in excise taxes and vigorous collection of back taxes, revenues came in slightly more than anticipated, while actual operating costs fell well below projections. Remley credited this savings to “good management and belt tightening along the way.”

The proposed adjustment included a $5,000 increase in salary for town administrator Tracy Blais; $9,000 for IT services, $30,000 for Professional and Technical Services; $1,500 for Finance Department Salary and Wages; $5,000 for Greenhead Control; $12,000 for Public Building Utilities; $9,400 for Public Buildings Property Related Services; and $4,000 for street lighting.

After a couple people questioned why voters were being asked to give Blais a mid-year salary bump, Bob Connors of the finance board explained that it was a contractual obligation inadvertently overlooked when the budget was approved last spring.

“What was presented at Annual Town Meeting was inaccurate,” he said.

Noting the “record levels” of cash reserves the town has realized since hiring the town administrator in 2011, Remley called Blais “our most valuable asset in town right now.” There is currently $1.73 million in cash reserves, $848,266 in Free Cash, $391,328 in Stabilization and $488,475 in Sale of Land account.

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