After the Board of Selectmen and town staff spent approximately 400 hours crafting the 2013 Salem town budget, their proposal was placed in the hands of the Budget Committee Wednesday night.
Town Manager Keith Hickey presented the budget, which has a tax impact of $7 per $1,000 valued property. This is down 6 cents, or 0.8 percent, from the present year budget.
Selectmen had originally set a goal of getting the tax rate to $6.99, or a 1 percent decrease.
The recommended operating budget from selectmen, if it were to go before the voters on next March's ballot, would be for $37,373,375. Additionally there are over $7 million in general fund warrant articles to be considered.
Revenues for the present year are projected to come in at just under $10 million with 2013 revenues projected at just over $11 million.
Before the presentation, Board of Selectmen Chairman Pat Hargreaves gave a brief introduction in which he reminded the committee they are an "advisory" committee.
"You do not set policy," Hargreaves said. "Selectmen are setting the policies. We will take your budget into account and we'll go from there."
After the presentation, committee members did ask several questions about the policies set in the budget, with much time spent on the new warrant article that asks voters if they'll support $73,000 for contributions to outside human services.
"It's scary to me," committee Vice Chairman Paul Huard said. "It lumps all the money into one place where there are things on that list...I don't that as charity."
Selectman Stephen Campbell said that was a policy set by selectmen as a way to give voters more choices at the ballot under the SB 2 form of government.
Hickey provided the committee with an update about relocation plans for the outside human service agencies presently in the Foss School, which is being close and sold by the town in the current budget. Empty space in the 10th Circuit Court of Salem was an original proposal but that is no longer an option, Hickey said.
The town is working with those agencies now to try and find locations that will work so they can stay in Salem. Hickey said those agencies presently do not pay rent to the town for use of the Foss School.
Committee member Patrick McDougall asked about where savings from the union contracts approved at last year's town meeting could be found in the budget, given projected increases in personnel costs.
Hickey said they could be found "in a number of places," including reductions in sick days and personal days as well as increases in employee contributions to health insurance. Locked-in increases in retirement and other benefits have contributed to the increases.
"In the long run, things need to be done," Campbell said, noting "baby steps" are being taken to get those costs down.
Next Wednesday, the Budget Committee will begin their review of town departments.