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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Merrimack Town Council OKs $28.7m budget

MERRIMACK – Merrimack’s proposed operating budget for 2013-14 came in at $28.7 million, with the proposed tax rate remaining the same after raises for nonunion employees were approved by the Town Council.

Council members approved the proposed $28,725,477 operating budget for 2013-14 at the regular meeting Thursday night. ...

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MERRIMACK – Merrimack’s proposed operating budget for 2013-14 came in at $28.7 million, with the proposed tax rate remaining the same after raises for nonunion employees were approved by the Town Council.

Council members approved the proposed $28,725,477 operating budget for 2013-14 at the regular meeting Thursday night.

The proposed tax rate for the 2013-14 operating budget is $5.25 per $1,000 of assessed value, which would be $1,575 on a house valued at $300,000. This was the same rate town voters approved for the current budget until added revenue from the Merrimack Premium Outlets and Public Service of New Hampshire reduced the current tax rate to $5.14 per $1,000.

As of Thursday night, five of the town’s six bargaining units had reached tentative agreements. The outstanding one is the union representing the Department of Public Works employees, Town Manager Eileen Cabanel said.

Councilor Dan Dwyer made a motion to give all full-time nonunion employees a one-time raise of $1,500. This included a 73 cent increase for eight part-time nonunion employees in town, altogether totaling $84,050. His motion exempted library employees. The library board of trustees opted for a cheaper health insurance plan that would save the library money and allow for a one-time increase in payment of $1,500 for full-time employees to help offset the new health insurance costs.

Dwyer said his motion would allow the tax rate to remain stable at $5.25 per $1,000 of assessed value. Cabanel said she agrees with the increase for the nonunion employees, especially since they have been paying 10 percent of their health insurance costs since 2010 – which doesn’t kick in for union employees until next year, or two years from now if their contracts are approved.

“The union people have always had great representation and the nonunion people don’t,” Dwyer said. “I thought at this time if the unions could come together, we should be able to benefit all employees. … We’re lucky we have a great number of employees who work for us.”

The council approved a motion to use $78,355 in meter fees to offset the raise amount.

All five of the negotiated contracts contain a first-year, one-time increase of $1,500 to employees’ base pay. Health care concessions include increased contribution by employees to their plans and higher co-pays.

The Merrimack Police Support and Dispatch Union has a tentative three-year agreement with health care concessions kicking in during the third year. The total contract cost is $23,934.

The Merrimack Firefighters Union has a three-year contract with a cost of $92,598.

The Teamsters Union, which represents public works supervisors and secretaries, also has reached a three-year agreement. This includes a first-year base salary increase of $1,500 and second year health care concessions. The price of the contract is $1,639.

The police union contract mirrors the Teamsters Union three-year agreement, except with a higher cost. The price tag for this contract, if approved, is $74,372.

There is a warrant asking voters if they want to establish a tennis court capital reserve fund to replace and/or construct new tennis courts in town.

The New Hampshire Police and Safety Employees Unions also has forged a three-year agreement with a total of $5,826.

The default budget, which is more than $571,000 higher than the proposed budget, would result in an increased tax rate. Cabanel explained the default budget allows the town to spend money that was originally removed from the budget.

When Cabanel first presented her plan, she highlighted four budget challenges for fiscal 2014, including increases in health insurance, retirement, workers compensation and property liability, totaling $869,948. Other major players for the 2013-14 budget are the fire, police and highway departments. Cabanel requesting $5.04 million, $5.2 million and $2.4 million, respectively, for each department’s operating budgets.

Reductions were made in salt and sand, police and fire department and the Merrimack Public Library. The library had two positions nixed and a custodial employee reduced from full time to part time. Other workforce reductions include one equipment operator and one full-time officer manager at Community Development. There is an addition of a part-time secretary at Community Development.

The Deliberative Session will be held at 7 p.m. March 13 at Mastricola Upper Elementary School’s all-purpose room, 26 Baboosic Lake Road. Voters will head to the polls to weigh in on the budget and accompanying warrant articles from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. April at the same location.

Erin Place can be reached at 594-6589 or eplace@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Place on Twitter (@Telegraph_ ErinP).