MEXICO – Selectmen agreed to ask the police and public works unions to reopen their contracts to discuss forgoing a scheduled 3 percent raise this year.

That was one step discussed at Wednesday’s selectmen’s meeting, which was taken up with budget issues with many of the town’s Budget Committee members.

While the board agreed to ask, not all believe the union workers or the nonunion workers should forgo the salary hike.

“The cost of living was up 5 percent that year, and we got them down to 3 percent,” said Selectman George Byam.

Selectman Richie Philbrick said he was willing to ask the union, and to talk with every union member.

“Tell them the economy is not the best, then be fair across the board,” he said referring to eliminating the 3 percent salary hike scheduled for nonunion members as well.

Selectman Peter Merrill said the town crew and all employees do a good job for the town.

That wasn’t the issue, said Byron Ouellette, a Budget Committee member.

“Is it fair to expect the taxpayers to make up the difference (with a salary increase)?” he asked.

If all municipal employees did without a 3 percent salary increase, that would save the town about $14,000, Town Manager John Madigan said.

Many on the Budget Committee were concerned with long-term plans for the town and the potential for a tax rate increase in light of a faltering economy.

“Freezes are asked everywhere, and firings,” Budget Committee Chairwoman Monique Aniel said. “A five to seven mill increase – is that what you want?”

Madigan developed a zero percent municipal budget of $2.56 million.

Some on the Budget Committee are concerned that despite a flat municipal budget, school and county taxes, along with reductions in state revenue sharing and other town revenues will boost the tax rate.

Madigan said the town has a small buffer. He also has faith that people will reject a proposal to reduce excise taxes, a funding source that figures heavily in the town’s revenues.

Andy Dupuis, a small business owner, said the town has to realize that it is a business. “I’ve had to lay off people. You’ve got to realize it’s coming,” he said.

Chairwoman Barbara Laramee said she and Madigan have been considering ways to reduce the budget. That could include the percent of health care insurance premiums that employees pay. Laramee also favors reducing the Police Department from five to four officers.

Merrill said he realizes the economy is in poor condition, but he isn’t ready to give up.

“I’m not wearing a hard hat until that first piece of sky hits me on the head,” he said.

Budget deliberations will continue March 12, 17 and 19, and April 2.

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