RUMFORD — At Thursday night's meeting, selectmen discussed at length ways to cut 10 percent from the current budget, including eliminating unnecessary overtime, freezing spending or downsizing through layoffs.
But after about 40 minutes — and much to the chagrin of Selectman Greg Buccina, who repeatedly urged the board to take action — the other board members simply moved on to the next agenda item.
That item was to consider hiring an efficiency consultant to help reduce costs.
That was approved 4-1 with Buccina dissenting, but not without raised voices and an accusation that it undermines Town Manager Carlo Puiia's work.
The discussion started after Puiia told the board the town could save about $17,000 by having town employees in the municipal office, library, Parks and Public Works departments each take five furlough days.
He said that would be the equivalent of every employee giving up a week's pay.
"It's a start . . . a good faith effort," Puiia said.
Selectmen took no action on it.
Discussion moved on to achieving the board's earlier goal of cutting 10 percent or $300,000 from the town's current fiscal budget, which ends in June.
Puiia said he had worked at length with department heads to find savings from the already "bare-bones" budget, but couldn't come up with anything close to saving that much money. He then sought direction from the board about possibly eliminating jobs, as wages represent the largest percentage of the budget.
Fire Chief Robert Chase said his department had already consumed 47 percent of its budget in nearly six months and believes having to cut 67 percent now "would be unrealistic and unsustainable."
"If it comes to reducing staff, it may come to that and people will have to understand that," Selectman Robert Cameron said.
Buccina suggested cutting unnecessary overtime instead.
Selectman Mark Belanger said the board shouldn't handcuff Puiia.
"Not that I want to lay anyone off, but we've got to get lean," Belanger said. "Furlough days are great, but we're not going to get any big savings out of that."
Chase advised the board not to overreact, especially in the face of future school-funding re-evaluations.
"We have to make the hard decision and it's not going to be easy," Selectman Frank DiConzo said. "Mr. Puiia has suggested layoffs, and I hate to go there."
He suggested revisiting regionalization.
Cameron, who made the original goal motion in September, said he did it intending that the board would achieve it and be ready to better meet reduced expenditures in next year's budget.
Buccina said he believes it's possible to cut unnecessary overtime and manipulate shift schedules rather than laying people off and losing the current level of service.
Board Chairman Brad Adley then summed up the consensus of the board, saying everyone unanimously agreed that the situation was critical.
"If we want to attain this (10 percent goal), we've got to get aggressive with it, and it's going to hurt," Buccina said.
DiConzo then motioned to move on to the next agenda item, which was to consider hiring an efficiency consultant.
When the board did, resident Kevin Saisi accused selectmen of showing a lack of confidence in Puiia to do his job.
Cameron shot back that they weren't doing that.
"All we're asking for now is a proposal," Cameron said. "It's not to spend money."
"We have the utmost confidence in Carlo," DiConzo said.
"We're only looking for another set of eyes to assist him to do his job," he added.
Puiia said it was OK to put the proposal out to bid and the majority agreed.