EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 10, 2013

Atkinson experiences budget problems

Atkinson may go over $4M budget

By Alex Lippa

---- — ATKINSON — Town officials are keeping sharp eyes on spending.

Expenses are higher than anticipated and the town may overspend its $4 million operating budget.

Town Administrator Bill Innes said he expects the town to spend $75,000 over its budget by the end of the year. Town officials already have approved expenditures that were over budget for 35 line items.

“It’s worrisome,” Innes said. “Last year, we went through a budgeting process and we cut the budget in a way that wasn’t in a painful matter. It was more in an arbitrary way. We ended up being underfunded in a lot of areas.”

Rising electricity costs and unexpected maintenance expenses were the primary reasons the town has had to spend so much, he said.

“Last year, we were focused on creating a flat budget,” Selectmen’s Chairman Todd Barbera said. “That was probably the wrong approach. We just need to work with the Budget Committee and educate them on what the impact was of taking that approach.”

Budget Committee vice chairman Bill Smith defended last year’s budget.

“In principle, it is problematic,” he said. “But I don’t have any regrets about last year’s budget. We have some ideas on how to do things better in the future.”

Barbera said this year’s budget provided no contingency plans.

“There are some things you just can’t control and have to deal with,” he said. “ But when you trim the budget so tight, it doesn’t leave us with much wiggle room to deal with variables that may occur.”

Although officials say the budget this year is tight, it is still $73,000 more than last year’s.

This year, the town had to account for emergency repairs to the community center and HVAC units in Town Hall costing more than anticipated.

The town also spent about $15,000 more in electricity costs than budgeted.

“The electrical cost in town really skyrocketed,” Innes said. “But for the next two years, we will have a fixed cost in electricity.”

As a result of the spending, Innes has asked department heads to see if they could not spend 8 percent of their budgets.

“We understand that is not going to be possible in all departments.” he said. “But it’s something that we are going to see where we might have some space.”

Despite certain departments being over budget, Innes said, the overall budget is still in pretty good shape.

“Right now, we’re on target for our year-end bottom line,” Innes said. “We just have to be more careful with our spending the rest of the year.”

Smith said the Budget Committee will meet a week from today to begin to discuss next year’s budget.

“We are going to study recent history in a little more detail,” he said. “If we have a line item that is under or over expended in some years, we just want to ask why and what’s changed, and then make decision on a line by line basis.”