RUMFORD — Selectmen spent more than two hours Tuesday night grappling with whether to flat-line the municipal budget to last year's figures or choose from two proposals and let voters decide in June.
One proposal was a request earlier this month from department heads totaling $7.3 million; the other, that of Town Manager Carlo Puiia's in reducing those requests to $7,084,634.
Late in the budget workshop, Chairman Brad Adley attempted to poll each board member about what they were willing to support. All but a few leaned toward Puiia's proposal. Adley didn't commit either way.
Selectman Mark Belanger recommended funding the 2011-12 budget at last year's approved budget of $6,651,334, which was down $104,381 from the approved 2009-10 budget of $6,755,715.
“Fund the budgets like last year and let the department heads adjust,” he said.
If that means staffing cuts and loss of services, so be it, Belanger said.
Selectman Jeff Sterling said he wasn't comfortable with Puiia's proposal, but would prefer to use it as a referendum to gauge town meeting voters in June.
“But the problem with that is you have to get the Finance Committee to buy in and that isn't going to happen,” he said.
Last year, selectmen went with Puiia's proposal, which was mostly rejected in favor of the committee's lower amount.
That's why Sterling said he believes the committee will stay true to its past and recommend a lower amount, which the majority of voters will again choose, whether they understand the consequences in loss of services or not.
Selectman Greg Buccina said he isn't comfortable with Puiia's proposal but would support it.
Coupled with a possible $208,000 in initiated article requests for donations, Buccina said taxpayers could realize a half to one mill increase, and that's without knowing the RSU 10 assessment.
Selectman Jeremy Volkernick said he would support putting the amount to voters, but if a majority said no to both the board's recommendations and the committee's, then selectmen would be forced to make cuts.
Earlier this month, department heads requested $7,330,717. Puiia pared that to $7,084,634.
Last year, department heads sought $7,332,775, which was cut to $7,051,334, and then reduced to the accepted budget of $6,651,334 when $400,000 from excise funds was used to decrease taxes.
Adley first asked fellow board members if they'd support recommending the department heads' request. Volkernick was the only one who said yes.
Everyone agreed if they flat-line the budget to last year's figure, the level of services would be reduced and employees would be let go.
Prior to polling the board, Adley asked, “I guess what it comes down to is do we want to have the blood on our hands or the voters' hands?”
Buccina said he didn't want anyone to lose their jobs, neither did he want a reduction in services. Instead, he urged the board to figure out better methods for doing budgets to find efficiencies.
"We're going to have to start getting creative,” he said. “We need to start looking at where we want to be two or three years down the road.”
“We need to get to the point where we can stabilize and this year isn't that year. The economy and our population are on a downhill slant.”
Selectmen have two days to mull over what to do.
At 7 p.m. Thursday, March 24, a public hearing will be held on the budget and the board will then vote on its recommendation.