MEXICO — Department heads were frustrated Wednesday afternoon after learning that residents had rejected a majority of the proposed municipal budget Tuesday.
Fire Chief Gary Wentzell said he viewed the rejected public safety budget as an insult to the Fire Department.
“Over the years, we've done a lot of stuff for the town, saved a lot of money, bought a lot of used equipment,” Wentzell said. “During the budget process, members of the Budget Committee kept making statements that the Fire Department would be all right, and most of them said that the Police and Highway departments would be safe, too. They said their intent wasn't to go after us.”
Wentzell was especially frustrated that resident Albert Aniel's proposed tax ordinance that would cap the town's operating cost at $2.73 million was approved by voters Tuesday.
“The ordinance means that the town has to come up with $344,000 to make up the gap,” Wentzell said. “No matter what Dr. Aniel says, money will have to be cut from most of our departments, including the Fire Department.
“By the time you get done figuring out which budget items can't be changed, it could possibly mean laying off some full-time people at the station, or not having the station manned 24 hours a day like it is now,” he said. “Nobody involved with the petition has come out specifically and said where they want the money to come from, but I've talked with a lot of my men, and they're really upset that everything was shot down yesterday.”
The proposed Fire Department budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year was $265,287, with $40,000 allotted for reserve funds.
Among the items rejected by voters Tuesday was Article 17, which asked voters if the town should authorize the selectmen to trade in a pumper and ladder truck and put the money toward the purchase of a 2002 E-One Cyclone Custom Pumper, while raising or appropriating the remaining $130,000. Voters rejected the article 249-207.
“As it stands now, I'm probably going to have to put thousands of dollars into this old truck,” Wentzell said. “It doesn't make sense to pour $30,000 into an old, 1987 truck when we could've had a much newer one for $130,000.”
When asked about the election results, police Chief James Theriault laughed and said they “were just ridiculous” and he had no idea how the town was going to function this way.
“We can't afford to lose anybody over here,” Theriault said. “From listening to the Budget Committee, though, it seems as if they don't want this town to have a Police Department, and that's not a good thing.”
Town Manager John Madigan said the people in charge of the ordinance “did not tell the whole story” when pitching it to the public.
“They made it sound like we'd be receiving tax cuts without losing any services that we offer in town,” Madigan said, “but it's baloney. Absolute baloney. We can't make up over $380,000 without a severe impact on the services that we provide to the town.”
Madigan said he was especially surprised to see that the town voted to reject raising $346,083 for debt service by a vote of 244-222.
“The town originally voted to incur the debt, so the responsible thing to do is pay back the debt,” Madigan said.
“Voting 'no' on everything is irresponsible, period,” he said.
Wayne Sevigny, director of the River Valley Recreation Center, said the outcome of the election was “crazy.”
“The people in charge of the ordinance were telling citizens that the town wouldn't be losing any services with the budget cap,” Sevigny said. “I was chatting with the town manager today, and we figured out that the town would most likely need to shut down the Recreation Department, the library and the Police Department to make up the $380,000.”
Sevigny later said he believes residents were not truly informed about the impact the ordinance would have on the town, adding that the ordinance, as written, was confusing to him and other residents.
“I read through the thing three times and handed it off to my wife, who has two master's degrees, because I couldn't make heads or tails of it,” Sevigny said. “I don't think a lot of people realized that this will affect all of the services in town.”
Selectmen recommended $114,973 for the Recreation Department budget, while the Budget Committee recommended $104,529. According to a spreadsheet detailing the budget, the Budget Committee recommended $50,000 for the recreation building, while the selectmen recommended $60,444.
Madigan told residents at a recent public hearing that the anticipated revenue from the Recreation Department is $45,000, which would reduce the amount of money to be raised by property taxes from $114,973 to $69,842.
Sevigny said Wednesday that the anticipated revenue is actually closer to $50,000.