Paris cutting services for next fiscal year

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PARIS — The town will be cutting services after June 30, the town manager and selectmen agreed Monday. Which ones and how much are still to be decided.

Town Manager Amy Bernard said that between the town’s budget situation and the state’s proposed budget, which could come down hard on municipalities, Paris could be seeing major cuts in services.

“We’re going to be cutting our budget this year,” she said.

Bernard asked selectmen for guidance as she’s still relatively new to Paris. “I don’t have the perspective after only being here for seven weeks to say that we should cut here or cut there.”

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“Nobody wants to cut services. I understand that,” Bernard said.

Vice Chairman Robert Kirchherr suggested asking departments for a bare-bones budget with only their needs, and a second budget with even less, “identifying those things they could do without, even though they need them.”

He acknowledged that it would be twice as much work to make two budgets, but it would also get department heads involved in the tough but necessary choices the town has to make.

Chairman Sam Elliot agreed. “We have to think of a way to get out of the hole we’ve created for ourselves.” He also pointed to the school costs as hurting the bottom line for taxpayers.

At the Jan. 14 meeting, Bernard told the board that the town’s cash reserves were drained and the town would have trouble getting through the rest of the fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Bernard said the town’s budget was already nearly cut to the bone. Usually, the first thing towns cut in lean times are payments to capital expenditure accounts. Paris hasn’t put capital expenditure money away for years.

The board also discussed benefits for town employees. Selectman Robert Wessels, who manages U.S. Cellular stores, said the town’s benefits are better than employees typically get in the private sector.

Selectman Ryan Lorrain agreed the town should look into different benefits packages.

Bernard said public employees are generally paid a bit less than their private sector counterparts but get better benefits. “We’re not competing with private sector people for our employees. We’re competing with other towns to get employees,” she said, and Paris must offer comparable benefits to get talented staff.

“It depends on what you’re comfortable with,” she told the board, but she said they should look at what other towns offer before making changes to the benefits. Otherwise, the cost of training less experienced employees could cancel any benefit costs.

The proposed state budget will have a big effect on the town’s funding. Bernard said Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed budget would take $303,000 in revenue sharing, $82,000 in Homestead Exemption reimbursement and $130,000 in excise tax income from the town.

Kirchherr denounced the LePage budget. “As far as I’m concerned, this proposed budget is a tax increase,” Kirchherr said.

He said it’s unlikely to pass intact, and Paris won’t know how much money it’ll have until a state budget passes. “We may not know that until May, if we’re lucky,” Kirchherr said.

treaves@sunjournal.com

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