Freeport moves closer to budget decisions

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FREEPORT — The Town Council heard public feedback Tuesday on the proposed budget for the 2014 fiscal year, but number-crunching remains before the council decides the budget’s fate at a June 4 meeting.

The town is mulling a combined municipal budget of $4.85 million that largely maintains services in fiscal 2014 while balancing potentially massive state revenue losses.

The budget includes spending of more than $102,000 to operate the town’s train station, which began operations late last year. But that would be a worthwhile investment, according to Amanda Beal, a Freeport resident who commutes to graduate school classes in Durham, N.H., via Amtrak’s Downeaster train service.

“Having access to the Downeaster opens up tremendous opportunities,” said Beal, whose grandfather, Nelson Soule, served as manager of Freeport’s former train station until the 1960s.

She said the town’s current station is an “incredible asset” that serves a wide variety of residents, and urged councilors to adopt the proposed budget.

Later in the evening, councilors pored over the budget in a workshop in which Chairman Jim Hendricks questioned whether the town was saving enough money in its reserves.

“Are we comfortable with the way it stands?” he asked the councilors. The consensus was that Freeport’s fiscal policy is sound, and that the council shouldn’t tinker with reserve requirements and other policies that were put in place last year.

But some councilors were ready to reopen the issue.

“It’s always valid to revisit the question,” Councilor Sarah Tracy said. “Residents have been asking about this.”

Councilor Melanie Sachs said that questions raised in last year’s budgeting process led to important changes in fiscal policy. But she didn’t feel more changes were warranted this year.

After polling fellow councilors, Hendricks said he would instruct town staff that the council is not considering changes to the reserve policy, but would remain open to suggestions in the future.

Councilor Rich DeGrandpre agreed with the decision. “Unless there’s a substantial change in our economy, the situation doesn’t warrant revisiting right now,” he said.

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.

Sidebar Elements

Freeport Town Councilors listen Tuesday as Brenda White, a school nurse for Regional School Unit 5, urges the council to approve the town’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year.