PARIS — A public hearing on the proposed 2011 fiscal budget drew a small gathering Thursday, but also resulted in a lengthy discussion on the committee’s responsibilities.
The hour-long hearing addressed the $3,339,903 budget approved by both Town Manager Philip Tarr and the Budget Committee. Tarr said the figure is 2.6 percent higher than last year’s budget, with most of the increase coming from vehicle and building maintenance as well as fuel costs. Salary costs have decreased in the administrative budget, where the code enforcement officer and tax assessor’s positions are being combined, and increased in the police department, where a full-time officer’s position is being funded to fill a vacancy.
Tarr said general assistance, a subsistence program required by state law, is reimbursed 50 percent by the state. The program, which provides heat and rent assistance and other relief, is budgeted to increase from $31,151 to $51,175.
“We really don’t have a choice in whether we can spend that money or not spend that money,” Tarr said.
The committee is also recommending $50,000 to start a fund to begin saving for a property revaluation over the course of four to five years.
The hearing led to a discussion of how the committee might be able to start preparing for future budget issues. Selectman Ted Kurtz said the town’s budget has increased by 55 percent in the past decade and asked what was being done to see that town residents would be able to meet the budget if costs continue to increase.
Selectman Lloyd “Skip” Herrick said the town is only supported by those who are able to pay municipal taxes. He cited a recent report that says about half of the American taxpayers will pay no federal income tax this year.
“At the end of the day, there’s just X amount of property owners who are paying taxes in this town,” he said.
Vic Hodgkins, chairman of the Budget Committee, said the committee is restricted by town ordinances and can only make recommendations on the budget from year to year. Committee member Don Allen said the increase in the budget over the past decade also reflects an increase in costs over the past year, and that it can be difficult for the committee to find areas to cut.
“I think we need to redefine the Budget Committee and the ordinance to see if we possibly can’t do more here,” Allen said.
Committee member Janet Jamison said that some increases that are seen as routine on the municipal level can be burdensome to individuals. She said she worked three jobs at one time and the increase in municipal taxes was difficult to handle.
“There are more than a few people out there who are probably going to struggle with their tax bill again this year,” she said.
Committee member Barbara Payne said it might be possible to consider eliminating the police department or consolidating its services with other communities. Hodgkins said a “general brainstorming session” could be set to discuss the future of the town’s budget, but it was outside the purview of the committee to do so.