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Southampton voters to consider $14.5 million budget at Town Meeting Tuesday

— Voters at Tuesday’s annual Town Meeting will consider a $14.5 million budget that level funds most departments but allows for 2 percent raises for employees.

The meeting takes place at the William E. Norris School at 34 Pomeroy Meadow Road at 7 p.m.

At $14,516,580, the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 is an increase of 4.8 percent over the current year’s $13,850,857 budget. It relies on $371,778 in free cash, which leaves the city’s coffers much lower than town officials are comfortable with, said Select Board member Michael L. Phelan Jr.

“We have almost no reserves left, so it’s a very big deal,” Phelan said this week. “It’s due to a combination of little things coming together.”

Finance Committee member Derek Geser said the budget level funds almost all departments but allows for 2 percent raises for employees. State funding and tax revenue only increased modestly this year, making it hard to fund even a nearly level-funded budget, he said.

“This year there was no extra money to go around,” he said. “It’s just another tough year. It’s not easy for anybody.”

A few departments saw increases. The Fire Department’s budget increased by $113,263, due largely to $35,100 in funding for the new stipend program for on-call EMTs and an increase of $25,300 in the EMS expenses line item because EMTs are now staffing the department during the day, Geser said. The Parks Commission’s funding increased $3,810 to a total of $7,000 to allow for maintenance of the Labrie Fields created on Strong Road last year.

At a special town meeting Feb. 5, voters approved spending almost $113,000 from the stabilization fund to cover raises for employees and other projects, money that was to be replaced when free cash became available.

But the town could only replace $53,939 to the stabilization fund (pending Town Meeting approval.) “Unfortunately, after we did the budget, there was not much money left,” Geser said.

Town Meeting also will also be asked to approve a master plan aimed at guiding the town through the next 20 years in the areas of housing, economic development, historic and cultural resources, open space and recreation, mobility, public services and facilities, energy, and land use.

Master Plan Committee member Hank Barton said the Planning Board has approved the plan, but the committee wants residents to give it their stamp of approval, too. Summaries will be available at the meeting.

Another item on the agenda seeks to transfer $92,000 in free cash to pay some of the town’s share of the Hampshire Regional School District’s costs from the current fiscal year. Geser said that at last year’s Town Meeting, voters approved an amount $92,000 less than the town’s full assessment in the hopes that the district would revise its budget, but it didn’t, so the town is on the hook for the full amount. In the budget for the coming fiscal year, the Finance Committee recommended paying the full $4.3 million the district assessed. The $150,582 increase over the current year is due to the percentage of Southampton students attending the high school in September.

Another measure asks voters to approve the creation of a state-approved trust fund whose purpose is to build a reserve to cover future health care and other benefits of town employees when they retire. Voters will also be asked to put $1,000 in the fund and allocate $10,000 for a study that will estimate the town’s future liability for post-employment benefits.

Five articles on the agenda seek to use $33,500 in Community Preservation Act funds to create a memorial area in Crossroads Park and fund other projects.

Also on the agenda are articles to allow $43,000 for the Police Department to purchase a cruiser and emergency equipment, $10,000 to fund a study to find if it is feasible to build a public safety complex on town land around the Town Hall, and to increase the Conservation Commission fees which have not been updated since 1997.

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

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