MEXICO – Aggressive belt tightening during Mexico’s budget development process this month resulted in a savings of $103,045 over last year.

However, Town Clerk Penny Duguay said the town’s SAD 43 assessment, which is expected to be much higher than last year’s $1.38 million, could quickly eat up the savings.

As of Thursday, the proposed 2003-04 budget stood at $1,507,096, without the $61,620 county assessment or the town’s share of SAD 43’s 2003-04 budget, which may not be known until late June or July.

Last year’s town budget – minus the $59,803 county assessment and $1,383,637 SAD 43 assessment – topped out at $1,610,141. That figure, together with the tax liability for school and county taxes, required a mill rate of $30.80 per $1,000 valuation.

“Last year, we worked hard on the budget and still ended up increasing the tax rate,” Selectman Arthur Bordeau said at Wednesday night’s joint meeting of the Board of Selectmen and Budget Committee.

Thus, this year, he was determined not to face taxpayers again at town meeting on June 9 with another tax rate increase.

That’s why Bordeau proposed giving every department and town employee a 1 percent across-the-board raise instead of their requested 2 percent. Selectmen OK’d it with a 4-0 vote.

Last week, when both groups began tackling the proposed 2003-04 budget as requested by departments, it totaled $1,563,318.

By the end of Wednesday night’s 2-hour meeting, however, the two boards had pared $56,222.

Following a lengthy discussion, selectmen voted 4-0 to approve a new pay scale for firefighters. Starting on July 1 and moving forward:

• Firefighters responding to calls will receive $9 per hour.

• Lieutenants, $9.50 per hour.

• Captains, $10 per hour.

• Deputies, $11 per hour.

• New firefighters, $6.50 per hour.

Selectmen also agreed to pay Chief Gary Wentzell the usual $5,000 stipend, but then, following Town Manager Joe Derouche’s advice, chose to break away from past practices by not paying him additional money for each call he goes to.

That didn’t sit well with either the chief or several firefighters present.

“I don’t like losing being paid for calls,” Wentzell said. “When I took over as chief 14 years ago, I was told the chiefs were paid for every call, whether they were there or not, but I didn’t agree with it. I don’t feel I should be paid for calls when I’m not there. However, the town manager went further and did away with all of them.”

Police Chief James Theriault then asked why Wentzell wasn’t getting “our big 1 percent raise,” but Derouche said he was, noting that it amounts to $55 a year. It sparked a remark from Wentzell: “That won’t even pay for an increase in the price of gas.”

But, before Wentzell and other firefighters could voice further objections, they had to rush off at 7:45 p.m. to fight a reported brush fire on Farrington Mountain.

Both selectmen and the Budget Committee approved a $127,015 proposed budget for the Fire Department, $3,580 less than the department’s requested $130,595 budget.

The two groups also pared Theriault’s salary from his requested $39,565, which represented a 2 percent increase, to $38,424, and reduced his requested $172,736 budget proposal to $167,088.

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