Life after the failed override: Southampton cuts back, from Highway Department furloughs down to eliminating paper towel budget

Last modified: Friday, August 15, 2014
SOUTHAMPTON — Town Administrator Heather M. Budrewicz said that town residents may notice the Highway Department employees doing less mowing and other maintenance work this summer, or they may reach for a paper towel in the Town Hall bathroom and realize the hand dryer is their only option.

Town employees are doing anything and everything they can to stay within their budgets, she said. They were cut when officials realized this spring that the town could not balance the budget they wanted and there were almost no reserve funds. They sought a $1 million override to avoid the cuts and replenish the savings, but voters July 1 opposed it by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.

Budrewicz and other officials had warned about the impact of budget cuts and some of them are now happening. Meanwhile, department heads and other employees have found new and creative ways to cut back, Budrewicz said.

“It seems minute, but we were spending $60 a month on paper towels,” she said. By eliminating the towels and asking employees and visitors to use the hand dryer, the town will save $720 this year, she said, adding that the move was not popular among Town Hall employees.

“Simple things like that are the things we’re working on,” Budrewicz said. “We’re trying to find creative solutions.”

Other cuts will save more but also have a greater impact on services. Beginning July 18 through Nov. 28, the Highway Department will be closed on Fridays and its nine full-time employees and a part-time administrator will take furlough days.

Highway Superintendent Randall E. Kemp, who is still working a regular schedule, said the union members reluctantly agreed to the furloughs to avoid any layoffs. The furloughs will save $16,306, according to Budrewicz.

“No matter what, it wasn’t going to be popular,” he said of his employees. Besides their lost income, no one likes falling behind on the department’s duties, Kemp added.

“We’ve been behind since the end of winter because it was such a long winter,” he said. “Then the street sweeper broke, the grass is getting longer in places, and we’re just trying to get everything done.”

By clustering the furloughs now through November, Kemp is hoping to avoid being short-staffed during the winter, when plowing and sanding require a lot of hours.

Edwards Public Library Director Barbara Goldin said she is still evaluating whether it will need to close another day of the week besides Sundays to make up a $7,100 deficit in her budget.

Already, the library has stopped paying for landscaping around the building. It is relying on volunteers to take care of the mowing and other chores now. “A volunteer just washed all the windows,” Goldin said. “And we’re putting off any issues with the building.”

Goldin is asking patrons to take the “Budget Cuts Survey” on the library website, www.southamptonlibrary.org. The survey will help her determine which lost services or increased charges would be least popular with patrons. Already in effect are a new charge to replace a lost card and a postage charge for materials requested from out-of-state libraries.

“We’re trying to pare down everything,” Goldin said.

In Town Hall, Budrewicz said officials are finding ways to reduce salaries in positions that are soon to be filled.

For instance, the number of hours her newly hired administrative assistant will work was cut from 30 to 18 per week. The town has also saved money because Conservation Commission member Arthur Lawrence has been volunteering in that job since April.

Budrewicz said the town hired Kevin Towle of Southwick for the job and will pay him $13,198 annually when he starts Sept. 2. He is the chairman of the Southwick Democratic Committee and has worked on numerous campaign committees.

Which Town Hall employees will have to take one furlough day per month has not been decided, Budrewicz said, because department heads are determining if they can save money in other ways. For instance, two employees in the tax collector’s office will not have to take furloughs because the Water Department will pay their wages one day each month in return for their processing the water bills. The office started overseeing the water bills last year, she said, and workers previously received a stipend from the Water Department for the work.

School layoffs, bus fee

At the William E. Norris School, the layoffs and other cuts school administrators predicted would happen if the override failed have taken effect. Three teachers have been laid off, one custodian has been reduced to part time, and four teachers of art, music, library and physical education have had their hours cut by 80 percent.

Another cost-saving measure has nothing to do with the failed override, said Cindy Landers, business administrator for the Hampshire Regional School District. Because of an increase in the cost of busing, the Norris School’s transportation budget ended up with a deficit of nearly $50,000.

As a result, the Norris School has instituted a bus pass policy that requires families who live within two miles of the building to pay $225 per child or a maximum of $450 per family to ride the bus. Regional school districts are required to provide transportation for students who live two miles or more from the school.

Landers said the school was able to cut one bus for a savings of about $24,000 based on the number of families who signed up for passes, including those who live more than two miles away and thus get free service.

Budrewicz said that town employees are doing their best to move on after the failed override. “We’re saying, ‘Yes, the override failed, but what can we do differently next time? How can we figure out what the town wants?’ ” she said. “Because in the end, that’s our job, to do what the residents want.”

For now, town officials are trying to develop a five-year spending plan. Budrewicz said it is likely that the town will need to ask voters to approve an override in the near future because the town’s revenue increases at a much slower rate than costs such as utilities.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.