Proposed Freeport budget holds the line on taxes; dispatch consolidation still an option

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FREEPORT — About 50 town employees filled Town Council Chambers Tuesday night to hear councilors discuss the 2011 budget.

Previously faced with a $366,000 budget gap, Town Manager Dale Olmstead suggested personnel reductions, service cuts and dispatch consolidation as a way to fill the gap.

But at the council meeting March 23, municipal employees Alene Arris, Debbie Reeder and Howard Dyer said they will continue to do more with less, as long as the council does not make additional reductions.

Arris, a library employee, said the non-union municipal employees have made sacrifices to preserve jobs and maintain a stable tax rate and they want to ensure all employees will be treated fairly.

The employees have been willing to take furlough days and give up cost-of-living increases, she said, as well as agreeing to health insurance cutbacks.

“We are willing to do this, which will result in significant savings to the town and cost to the employees, with the understanding that the town will not attempt to negotiate further furlough days, or wage freezes, wage cuts or position reductions in the fiscal 2011 budget,” Arris said.

Council Chairman Bill Muldoon said the council would consider the employees’ proposal fully as they continue through the budget process.

The proposed 2011 municipal operating budget is $9.2 million, $67,000 less than this year. Finance Director Abigail Yacoben said the projected municipal tax rate will remain $3.11 per $1,000 of assessed value for fiscal year 2011.

Councilor Eric Pandora suggested transferring $30,000 from the tax stabilization and cable funds, a bi-weekly pay period with direct deposit to save $3,500 and moving $85,000 of funding for the Freeport Economic Development Corp. from the operating budget to the Destination Freeport TIF.

While Olmstead and other councilors said they support Pandora’s efforts to maintain jobs, they said moving FEDC funding out of the operating budget would not be an option in this budget cycle, although it may make sense in the future.

Yacoben said she and Olmstead have been working to find ways to close the operating budget gap, and are close to achieving the goal without significantly reducing staff.

She said switching to a new health program would save about $45,000 and two early retirements would account for another $50,000 in savings. Increased revenue sharing from the state will bring in another $50,000.

Dispatch consolidation is still on the table, she said, with a savings of nearly $80,000. In addition, she said $50,000 could be saved by using tax stabilization funds and contingency money.

On April 6, the council will review the proposed capital and operating budgets at 7 p.m. in council chambers, and on April 27 there will be a public hearing. The council is expected to adopt the 2011 budget on May 11.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or