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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Litchfield town, school budgets propose increases, move smoothly through initial hearing

LITCHFIELD – The Town Meeting process kicked off with few questions and a mostly silent auditorium Thursday night as the Budget Committee approved the proposed 2012 budgets for the town and school district.

Residents will vote on each plan in March.

The town budget is up $469,948 to $4.96 million, an increase of about 10.5 percent, and will add 44 cents to the tax rate, according to budget documents.

The increases include fire hydrant fees, Highway Block Grant funds and an increase in police union salaries and benefits, all of which were previously approved by the voters at past Town Meetings.

Without those appropriations, the proposed 2012 town budget would barely go up at all – it would increase $2,556, or about .05 percent.

The school budget will increase about 3.4 percent to $20.8 million. The total proposed increase for the school budget is $875,440, mostly because of increases in retirement, health insurance and workers’ compensation costs. All salaries have been frozen at their current levels.

Six special education paraprofessionals and one special education speech pathologist would be hired at a total cost of $181,468 for the seven positions to meet individualized education program requirements.

The school warrant includes cost items for adding a reading specialist position and a summer reading program at Griffin Memorial School, a cost-of-living adjustment for non-union employees, an athletic trainer at Campbell High School and funding the wrestling program at Campbell High.

A town-petitioned warrant article has been submitted to adopt the default budget and forgo the increases. That vote requires a three-fifths majority to pass at Town Meeting.

The town warrant includes 10 articles, although only three could affect the tax rate, and one of those is the general operating budget.

Some concern was expressed over a warrant to use $70,000 of the town’s fund balance for a new roof on Town Hall, considering that the building was built just 14 years ago in 1998. But the roof is failing, and the roof contractor and the shingle maker are now out of business, Town Administrator Jason Hoch said.

However, Hoch said the town is in the midst of a claims process with the shingle maker’s successor company because the shingles didn’t last as long as expected.

Any settlement money wouldn’t be enough to replace the roof, Hoch said, but whatever the town receives would be put back into the fund balance.

The town and school district will hold a joint deliberative session at Campbell High School at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 4.

Litchfield residents will cast their votes on Tuesday, March 13.

Cameron Kittle can be reached at 594-6523 or ckittle@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Kittle on Twitter (@Telegraph_CamK).