PARIS — The Budget Committee has agreed to begin meeting each month to receive updates on the municipal budget and suggest improvements in the operation of the town.

Seven of the nine members of the committee met Thursday to discuss the future of the committee, which operates in an advisory capacity to the town manager and Board of Selectmen on budget matters. Committee chairman Vic Hodgkins said recent budget matters, such as the approval at town meeting of $90,995 to fund per diem firefighters for daytime coverage, could have gone before the committee. However, the committee is usually disbanded until later in the fiscal year when suggestions are made on the budget voted on at the annual town meeting in June.

Hodgkins said the committee might wish to operate in more than an advisory role if it begins looking at finances from month to month. He said the members should also become experts on the budget process, a trait he said is not necessarily a requirement when the committee advises on the budget in the spring.

“If we’re going to have a knowledgeable role in the process, we need to become knowledgeable,” he said. “And I, for one, don’t feel knowledgeable.”

Committee members said they wanted to learn more on various aspects of the budget, including revenues and capital expenditures. Member Barbara Payne said the town should look into whether a police department is necessary, saying it might not be prudent for a town of approximately 5,000 people.

“I don’t think we can afford to keep increasing costs,” she said.

Other members suggested that the town might look into combining emergency services with other towns. Heidi Ricci said the committee could meet with other budget committees in Norway and Oxford to see if the idea has been discussed there. Town Manager Philip Tarr said the committee needs to be proactive in looking at a long term capital improvement plan as well as the attitudes in neighboring towns toward combining services.

“Somebody’s got to start the conversation, and it could be you,” he said.

Tarr also updated the committee on the budget-to-actual figures of the 2010 fiscal year budget. He said the debt service fire station bond account had an overdraft only because of the way the tax increment financing was recorded on the books.

The General Assistance fund, which the town must pay if individuals are eligible, was overspent by $37,366.24. Tarr said he expects another $33,000 loss in the state match to the program, but that the state will reimburse at least 50 percent of the 2009-10 figure. The remaining funds will come from the town’s surplus account, which Tarr said was replenished by underspending in several other line items.

“It hopefully becomes at least a wash,” he said.

The Budget Committee will hold its next meeting on Sept. 30.

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