CAMDEN — The Camden Budget Committee met March 31, on what was supposed to be its final session in the Washington Street conference room, but instead of approving a final budget, the group voted to send the expenditures back to the town manager to rework the figures to cap the fiscal 2017 budget at a 3-percent increase over the fiscal 2016 budget.
The 3 percent figure was the result of a poll by committee chairman Dave Nazaroff, following the group's discussion of where best to stop, or continue, making cuts to the proposed budget before them. Before the poll, it was noted that they had likely made suggested cuts to bring the budget down to 4.6 percent over last year's budget. During the poll, 10 members recommended the 3 percent, two wanted 2 percent, one thought a 4-5 percent budget increase should yield a 2-3 percent tax increase and one committee member abstained.
"Looks like 3 percent wins," said Nazaroff, which was followed by a motion for the 3 percent overall budget increase and a vote that passed. That figure does not include this year’s Snow Bowl deficit, which includes a carryover of $81,000 from last year and as much as $250,000 this year due to warm weather that caused a shortened ski season and cut into expected revenue from this year’s U.S. National Toboggan Championships.
At the start of the budget process, the budget committee on March 3 was given a figure of $7,922,227 for the FY17 Department Requested Budget, and $7,766,681 as Town Manager Pat Finnigan's Requested Budget. The town manager's budget, as presented, was an 8.6 percent increase over last year's budget, and included a 2 percent cost of living wage increase for town employees.
A 3 percent overall budget increase equals $214,533. And Finnigan said Tuesday that means she and her staff have to find another $120,024 to cut from the budget committee's recommended preliminary $7,485,667 budget (as of March 31.) Finnigan is scheduled to meet with the budget committee tonight at 6:30 p.m. in the Washington Street Conference Room to finalize the budget.
Over the course of subsequent meetings, the budget committee discussed and voted on preliminary reductions to various budget summary lines. On other lines, they opted not to vote due to a lack of backup information, lack of actuals and/or a collective desire for further discussion.
Part of the reason for the request for more information was because the current committee is comprised of 22 members, nearly half of whom are in their first year. The committee also wanted the information, and wanted it with some time for review before convening, to help them make more informed decisions before being asked to vote.
At the March 3 meeting, during a review of the committee's role and process, the minutes show that the committee requested that the town manager provide:
- Actuals from 2012 to current
- Provide any backup materials two days prior to meeting for capital improvement purchases
- Minutes from the last budget, March 31, 2015
At the start of the March 10 meeting, committee member Kate Bates made a motion to amend the March 3 minutes to state that the minutes, agendas and budget information be provided to the committee 24 hours in advance of their meetings. That motion passed.
Also on March 10, Jean Freeman-White made a motion that the committee not vote on any departments' budget until they see the actuals from previous years. She said that the actual expenditures would show the department trends. That motion passed as well.
During the meeting, the budget committee voted to approve the preliminary budgets for the Camden Public Library ($415,000), Knox County Dispatch ($127,714), Fire Hydrant Assessment Fee ($201,897), Emergency Medical Services ($27,302) and Emergency Operations Center ($1,000).
No motions were made for the Fire Department or Public Safety Building budgets, pending review of previous years' actuals, according to the minutes.
The committee began discussing the COLA, with Anita Brosius-Scott making a motion to approve a 1.3 percent wage increase for town employees, instead of the 2 percent proposed in Finnigan's budget. The matter was ultimately tabled until the March 27 meeting. At that meeting, the committee talked about the fact that there had been a COLA increase of 3 percent last year, as well as the year before.
Committee members also talked about the current fiscal picture, including a flat consumer price index, a 1.3 percent federal government COLA and the fact that large local employers like Bank of America had not given merit or COLA raises since the financial meltdown of 2008 as reasons to seriously reconsider the town's COLA.
The committee also viewed a 2015 Municipal Salaried Wage Survey created by the Town of Rockport that showed that the salary for Camden's town manager was $23,088 more than Rockport', the finance director's salary was $14,913 more than Rockport's and the fire chief's salary was $10,899 than Rockport's.
In addition, Camden's assessor is paid $70,200 compared to Rockport's ($59,530), and Camden's police chief is paid $70,054 compared to the Rockport police chief's salary of $62,275.
Camden Police Department is comprised of 11 full-time officers, including the chief, lieutenant, two sergeants, one detective and six patrol officers. Rockport Police Department has six officers, including the chief, administrative assistant/patrol officer, sergeant, and three patrol positions, one of which is currently vacant. Rockland's police chief is paid $70,595, and that agency employees 18 officers, as well as one full-time clerical staff, one full-time parking enforcement officer and one part-time animal control officer.
Feeling that town employees were pretty well compensated compared to other towns, and that town tax taxpayers were already facing a likely increase in taxes due to other costs that the budget committee could not control, Brosius-Scott's tabled motion for a 1.3 percent COLA failed at the March 24 meeting, with 5 in favor and 12 opposed, and a motion by Bruce Malone to recommend a zero percent wage increase passed, 8 in favor, 6 opposed and 3 abstentions.
At the March 17 meeting, the budget committee received handouts with actuals for 2014 and 2015. But according to committee member Kate Bates, the process to flip through the sets of handouts and compare the figures with the 2017 budget information included in their binders was a "cumbersome process."
At the March 17 meeting, the Harbor and Public Landing budget and Public Works budget were both tabled, according to the minutes, pending review of actuals.
"By March 22, I got my hands on a budget worksheet that had all the actuals," said Bates in an email. Bates added that she asked Finnigan that day to distribute the worksheet to the committee ahead of the March 24 meeting, but with no action by March 23, Bates said she distributed the actuals data to the committee on her own.
At the March 24 meeting, the committee's fourth of six scheduled meetings, the Cemetery Association and Cemetery Maintenance budget was voted on and approved, as were the Town Office budget, Opera House budget, Recreation budget, the Dams budget, the Parks and Open Space Reserve account funding, the Dam Reserve account funding and the Snow Bowl Capital Reserve account funding. The committee also voted to approve the Professional Service for Legal and Engineering Services and Planning and Development Department budget, with the understanding that the Planning and Development Department budget be reduced based on a zero percent wage increase.
Each of those budgets was approved either as presented, or with reductions to the town manager's requested figure as cuts recommended by staff or by the budget committee during their discussion and review of actuals and other information.
No vote was taken on the Administration, Finance and Assessing Department budget.
Also at the March 24 meeting, the committee tabled the Parks budget after asking the town manager to provide updated figures on full-time positions.
The committee convened March 29 for its fifth meeting, and voted and passed preliminary figures for the Information Technology, Insurances, Debt Services, Capital Improvements and Capital Reserves budgets.
All of those preliminary figures can be viewed here, in an updated Expenditure Summary provided to PenBayPilot by Finnigan on April 4.
During the March 31 meeting, when the budget committee heard presentations by a handful of area community service organizations seeking funding in the upcoming budget, and its only vote was to send the budget back to Finnigan to cap her recommended budget at an increase of 3 percent over last year's budget, some on the committee also wanted to talk about the Snow Bowl's budget.
When and how to discuss the Snow Bowl's budget and its impact on taxpayers, especially during down years, comes up often as a topic in various municipal committees, but none more than the budget committee. While owned by the town, the Snow Bowl is treated as its own economic entity and is managed as an "enterprise budget." This means its revenues and expenditures are maintained outside of the town's general fund. The budget runs on a July 1-June 30 fiscal year. There are few cross-over expense lines with the town's recreation budget, such as some shared salaries; however, because the Snow Bowl is a business, as well as a municipally-run department, the goal is to have most of its operations funded by its own income stream.
The mountain has been supported by the town in varying degrees since the town assumed ownership of its real estate and operations in 1983. In 1990-91, Camden voters approved funding the Snow Bowl with $149,000 of their tax dollars; in 2009-2010, it was $55,000. In 2012, and following several years of good snowfall, the town contributed zero dollars.
That changed last year, when cost overruns stemming from the first phase of the Ragged Mountain Redevelopment Project set the mountain back, causing the Snow Bowl to begin the season $81,000 in the red, while the Select Board unanimously approved a $947,464 budget for the mountain, a $73,326 increase over the 2014-2015 budget.
"There is no reason we can't discuss the past history of the Snow Bowl, and what we know about it," said committee member Etienne Perret.
Chairman Nazaroff told the committee he didn't think it was appropriate to talk about.
Nazaroff's opinion was backed up by members of Select Board, who were in attendance as observers at the meeting. Select Board Chairman John French said: " We will make sure the budget committee is given a copy of the Snow Bowl budget and actuals when we get them."
But that raises an issue for the budget committee, which it always has, because the Snow Bowl's budget does not come to the town until June. And then the Select Board is charged with making final decisions about how it impacts taxpayers, not the budget committee it prepares the town's budget for voters at town meeting on June 15. In fact, the Snow Bowl budget, while it is a public document and voted on by the Select Board, does not come to town meeting for a vote.
Select Board member Don White told the group, "The timing is kind of wrong, but all the information is available and there are opportunities to speak publicly."
The Select Board suggested that members of the budget committee attend the meeting in June when the Snow Bowl budget would be discussed by the Select Board, and voice their opinions then, along with other members of the public who could do the same.
Last year, the Select Board discussed the Snow Bowl budget in a workshop June 16, and voted on the final budget at its June 29 meeting.
Committee member Paul Cavalli,"It's an informational session only. If in fact it impacts the budget, that finding another $250,000 to cut, that's a whole new world. If that's the most likely choice, then there is a budget committee meeting that needs to be held."
"Yes, we can come and speak in front of the selectmen, but we aren't there as a group of 20 budget committee members to discuss the topic and that's what we should do," said Perret.
Bates agreed, and said, "I think that the Snow Bowl does pertain to the budget. The odds are good that the budget will impact the 2017 budget, and that's what we are here to discuss."
Committee member Brett Lerner said he wanted more transparency from the Snow Bowl.
"As a point of transparency, the library came to us and they were very transparent and provided us with documents," said Lerner. "The Snow Bowl was not."
Bates then said, "Snow Bowl is a moral hazard situation, which is the difference between the library and the Snow Bowl. And that's why it makes sense to have more transparency on the side of the Snow Bowl."
At that, they ended the discussion, and Nazaroff praised the committee for their work.
Before asking them to go around the table and make statements, to which Select Board member Leonard Lookner added he wanted them to speak about what they think their role should be in the future, Nazaroff said, "You have been the most engaged and non-rubber stamp group I have ever seen on board as a budget committee. I don't want the town staff to think you were here cutting their jobs and rolling back on promises and leaving them with a bad outlook."
Jean Freeman-White said that an orientation sesssion is needed before the first budget committee meeting to help new members, and the committee needs to have the proposed budget in hand a week before their first meeting, with actuals for three years prior.
"As far as level of service, it's hard to tell," she said. "How do I know what it takes to run the town. Do I have questions about why there are 11 people on the police department? Sure, but I have no way of knowing for sure what is needed for schedules and coverage. I find it difficult what level of service we want and how to adjust."
Don Foster said, "The most important function is the safety of the citizens. It's one place a citizen will seek a greater level of service."
Brosius-Scott said she felt strongly that the budget should be presented with actuals on the same sheet, that the town should be creating those documents, not a member of the budget committee. "I find it difficult to do my job if I can't see the trends," she said. She also noted there were no meeting minutes from March 10 forward; that fire department revenues were not included, but that police department revenues were; that they learned there was $30,000 in the TIFF fund but didn't know where it was going; that she would like to see debt and principal pages and how many years are left on them; and how is left in reserves so the committee can opine if more or less is needed.
Alison McKellar, a new budget committee member, said that she sees part of their role as not just to decide the budget, but also to understand what things cost and why and to disseminate that to the public.
Cavalli said that prior to beginning meetings in March, the committee should set priorities and have an open discussion as a group of what should be most important, what "makes sense on account lines."
"At some point, I think it would be good for the select board, the town manager and others to consider that this seems like a very large group. I know it says it has to be 21-25 people, but it seems like a lot," he said.
Bates said that the most frustrating thing for her this year was having to "ferret information constantly, not having it ready right away." "We lost two opportunities to vote because of no actuals," she said. She said that in terms of service, the town should be considering those services that everybody benefits from. She said she feels that the town spends a lot of money on services not used by everybody, or even the majority, and it's a place they need to be careful of and pay more attention to.
"The minutes should be online like all others, the current physical budget should be online, the big loss at the Snow Bowl should be ferreted out," said Bates. "We should not have to fight for it, we should push back and ask that some of the harder decisions be made before the budget comes to us."
Lerner said, "This year my favorite year on the committee, and everybody did a great job. At the end we got to the top-down method, which really works in the private sector. Give the town heads their budget goal and let them do their due diligence. The revenue side needs to come into the budget committee's purview and at some point in time, we need to look at synergies with Rockport and other towns to keep expenses down."
Perret said that the budget committee should be able to look at how much the town has to spend before they look at how to spend it.
"The cost of running the town consistently goes up faster than the income of the people who live here and we have to deal with that," said Perret.
Tamy Ballou agreed with Bates about the need to look at services and who is using and benefiting from them, and she also said, "What services are we supporting that are already being supported elsewhere? It's hard to pay my own federal, state and now property taxes to support these nonprofits."
Matt Brown, among most everyone else, agreed that an orientation would really help. He also agreed that there should be revenue and expense goals.
Ronald Vanosdol said he found the budget package extremely difficult to use, and that a template could be developed for the committee to use.
Jamie Weymoth said he feared the town would eventually need to hire full-time firefighters, not rely on volunteers.
Bruce Malone said he had an issue with funding provider service agencies. "To extort tax payer dollars and give it to these organizations that are not part of our town government seems illegal to me," he said.
Frank Stearns said he didn't think the town's police department needed 11 full-time officers, given that the town has had the same population for the past 72 years, and back then there was just one constable.
"I don't think Camden is a high crime area today," Stearns said. "I think there is more likelihood to have a need for a firefigher than to fight a murderer in your house."
The budget committee is meeting tonight, April 6, at 6:30 p.m. in the Washington Street Conference Room. The meeting will be streamed live on TownHallStreams.com.
Reach Editorial Director Holly S. Edwards at email@example.com and 207-706-6655