FREEPORT — The Town Council Tuesday night approved a $9.3 million municipal budget for fiscal year 2012 and a $2.5 million capital improvement plan for 2011.
Although the meeting lasted about five hours and many budget options and new programs were supported by some councilors, in the final hour and with a reluctant 7-0 vote, it was decided the municipal tax rate will remain unchanged.
With the exception of adding $4,200 to the operating budget for video on demand – the ability to watch town meetings and other programming online – no new programs, personnel or services were added Tuesday. The total budget is $46,000 larger than this year’s spending because of mandatory items like pensions, health insurance and salary agreements.
Councilor Joe Migliaccio supported the budget, but said he wanted to find a way to reduce taxes for residents. He suggested using undesignated funds or tax rate stabilization funds to provide additional staff in the Fire Department, but received no support.
“There’s a lot I don’t like in this budget,” he said.
Councilors agreed that in order to address shortfalls in services and staff at the library, Fire Department, Public Works and Police departments they need to study the services provided by staff and decide where there are efficiencies or room for improvement. After the analysis, Town Manager Dale Olmstead said the council will be better equipped to meet the needs or requests of department heads.
Some councilors favored adding a library position, others were in favor of adding a police officer or firefighter and paramedic.
Councilor Jim Hendricks said with a new sports complex and expected tournaments and events, more public safety personnel would be needed. He was also in support of adding library and police staff to the budget. He said these services warranted a tax increase.
But Councilor Charlotte Bishop said the council goal is to keep taxes flat and additional services and staff could be discussed next year.
“I don’t want to pick one of you over the other,” she said.
Procedurally, Councilor Eric Pandora argued that the budget format was not in compliance with the Town Charter. Although he ultimately voted in favor of the budget, he said he did so with the intention of making a motion to reconsider in the future.
He said the charter states the budget must show comparative figures for the actual and estimated revenue and expenditures of the current fiscal year and the previous year, and it is not presented that way.
Olmstead said the material is available and provided upon request. He said the budget format was adopted by previous councils and could be changed at any time.
“These issues should be brought up at the beginning of the process, not at the end,” Olmstead said.
Finally, Olmstead warned the council that after several hours of deliberations, decisions made about services and personnel could be unwise.
“Without the analysis of services and personnel needs, it is a bad decision to make any decisions tonight,” he said. “I want employees to understand I want you all on equal footing and want you to make your case on equal footing. Decisions made at midnight are not good process.”
Depending on the school budget, the estimated tax rate will remain $15.15 per $1,000 of assessed value.