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January 23, 2014

Salem selectmen vote down slashing budget

SALEM — A last-minute attempt to slash money from the proposed $40.3 million budget to appease taxpayers was defeated by selectmen.

The board voted 3-2 against a proposal by Selectman Stephen Campbell on Monday to cut $38,000, reducing the tax rate increase from 10 to 9 cents. The town portion of the tax rate is currently $7.02 per $1,000.

Selectmen also voted to send more than a dozen town and citizen petition articles to the warrant for the election March 11.

They approved $1.6 million in bridge reconstruction bonds and close to $2 million for water line improvements on North Policy Street and at the water treatment plant. Selectmen also decided not to recommend approval of several funding requests from nonprofit agencies.

But the most heated discussion of the evening came when Campbell asked his colleagues to slash an additional $38,000 from the proposed budget. Campbell said he was worried voters would reject the operating budget and approve the default budget, which is $1.7 million less.

“The people who are coming up to me in town are very concerned about their taxes,” he said. “I think it’s important to show voters we are going to tighten our belt and live within our means.”

But Selectmen Michael Lyons said he would not support randomly cutting money from the budget at the eleventh hour. The budget needs to be finalized by Jan. 27, Town Manager Keith Hickey said.

“I am not going to support that,” Lyons said. “To spend hours and hours on something and just say, ‘Let’s make a broad cut.’ That’s not right.”

Selectman James Keller agreed.

“We painstakingly went through each budget item ad nauseam,” he said. “If as a board we are going to cut nearly $40,000, I’m not going to let that go as arbitrary.”

Keller and Lyons voted against Campbell’s proposal along with Chairman Everett McBride Jr. Selectman Patrick Hargreaves backed Campbell’s plan.

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