By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — Town officials are struggling with how to come up with the additional money needed to fund the replacement of aging fuel tanks at the Department of Public Works garage as part of a $677,000 remediation project.
The state would reimburse the town for the $411,000 required to excavate approximately 2,860 tons of contaminated soil, according to Town Manager Keith Hickey and Andy Fulton, a hydrogeologist with the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.
The town is still strapped with finding an additional $21,093 in the proposed $40 million operating budget for 2014 to fund the removal of a 5,000-gallon gas tank and 6,000-gallon diesel tank, Hickey told selectmen Monday.
“I don’t have $21,000,” he said.
Although the contamination is from a leaking diesel tank removed in 1989, Hickey and public works director Rick Russell have said the two tanks need to be replaced. Part of the DPW building will have to be dismantled to reach the contamination, Russell said.
Selectmen considered a proposal Monday to have the budget amended at the deliberative session in February after recent bids revealed the project would cost more than anticipated.
The board debated whether it would be prudent to ask taxpayers to foot the extra $21,093, in addition to the town’s $266,000 share of the project.
Selectman Stephen Campbell said the board already had failed to meet its goal of approving a budget without a tax increase and he wasn’t going to ask taxpayers to pay more.
“I am not voting to add $21,000 to the bottom line,” Campbell said. “I am against adding to the tax rate.”
Selectmen have been considering ways to save money after learning from Hickey earlier this fall the town faces a 14.9 percent increase in employee health insurance costs.
The board recently reversed course and decided to seek insurance quotes from the Local Government Center after Selectman Michael Lyons told his colleagues the town could save an estimated $200,000 a year.
Some selectmen, including Campbell, had refused to do business with the LGC because of a bitter legal battle with the town. The LGC owes the town between $300,000 and $400,000 as part of a reimbursement dispute, according to Selectmen’s Chairman Everett McBride Jr.
Hickey told selectmen Monday that the LGC board has agreed to waive a stipulation that prohibited the town from receiving insurance through the municipal carrier for at two years because it withdrew from previous coverage plans. Hickey said it would be difficult to determine how much the town could save.
Selectmen decided not to add an additional $21,093 to the budget. Lyons said it was their responsibility, not Hickey’s, to find savings within the budget.
“Don’t tell this guy to do it,” he said of Hickey. “Find something else you want to do.”
Selectmen said they will consider possible cuts and discuss the issue further at their meeting Dec. 9.
Hickey said the project would have to be done soon or the town would risk losing the $411,000 in cleanup costs funded by the state.
“I don’t know how long that money will be there,” he said.