The Halifax Finance Committee met virtually on Jan. 31. Chair Thomas Connolly led things off with a roll call. Vice Chair Cheryll Zarella- Burke was in attendance as were Todd Dargie, Michael Bennett, and Jonathan Schmaling. Town Accountant Sandra Nolan, Town Clerk Susan Lawless, and Holmes Public Library Director Jean Gallant were also present.
Regarding the Fiscal Year 2023 budget, Connolly said, “There’s no new action, other than keep educating ourselves about what’s there.” Nolan noted that she did add $150,000 to revenues for motor vehicle excise. “We’ve always been very conservative, and we did very well last year on motor vehicle excise which was surprising; this year the State is estimating about a 7 percent increase,” Nolan explained.
Nolan also said that they did not yet have the assessment from Silver Lake. She said that there is currently a placeholder for level funding. The Committee noted that the estimate was that Silver Lake’s portion of the assessment would be going up $340,000. “That’s where the rubber is going to hit the road,” Connolly said. Nolan said that to stay in the black, the number would have to be closer to $164,000. “So that obviously goes well over that,” Nolan said.
Linda Cole said that health insurance would be less than what was estimated in the budget. “It will fluctuate a ton between now and then… it will come down, probably significantly,” she explained. She said that the same is true every year. The placeholder is currently set at 7 percent, but the actual number will likely be closer to 3 or 4.
Burke said that she had heard from the Police Chief that the Police Department plans to have a vote at town meeting to purchase two new cruisers. She also said that the Police Chief said that the town has eight auxiliary officers who need to pay their own way through the Police Academy. “So needless to say, they’re not going to do that, so we’re probably going to lose them.” Connolly asked if it was standard practice for towns to have auxiliary officers pay for the academy themselves and was told it was. As a result, the town may end up paying more in overtime for officers. Lawless brought up the high cost of paying officers overtime to fill the shifts normally filled by the auxiliary officers, were they to leave. Connolly responded saying, “Is there a way, you know, local businesses could pay that tuition, or we recruit new auxiliaries who are willing to foot the bill themselves if that is consistent with what other towns ask of their auxiliaries; maybe we can just find a creative way to cover those costs or find someone who is committed enough that they’ll cover them themselves.” Zarella-Burke recommended having the Police Chief attend their next meeting to discuss.
Regarding some of the other departments under Zarella-Burke’s purview she said that while they understand the need for level funded budgets, some costs are out of their control. She gave the rising cost of ambulance supplies as an example.
It was suggested that the Committee approach the department heads to ask for a few ideas for ways to increase their revenues. It was recommended that fee schedules be looked at among other things. “It’s definitely worth looking at,” Nolan agreed. Gallant asked if the library should consider going back to instituting fines for late items. Nolan said that the amount generated would be very small. Gallant said that the Board of Trustees was split on whether to charge late fees though she noted she was against them.
Connolly said that they had a request from the Board of Selectmen. The Selectmen plan to hire an assistant and asked that the position be moved to a Grade 2, Step 3 due to her experience. The Finance Committee voted to approve the request.
Connolly explained that Committee member Michael O’Brien has previous commitments that overlap with much of the work being done by the Finance Committee on Monday evenings. “What I wanted to propose to Michael, if it’s acceptable to the Committee, is that he remain on the Committee, he remain the contact for the departments that he is looking after, and it’s not every Monday that he needs to be away… if he’s amenable to it, because he did express that he would like to stay on the Committee, he’ll miss votes, he’ll miss certain evenings but we still have a quorum without him and then on the evenings that he can join us, he’ll update us on whatever is happening with the budgets that he’s working on,” Connolly explained. While no vote was needed, the Committee did agree to move forward with Connolly’s plan contingent upon O’Brien’s agreement.