By Doug Ireland
---- — 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.
Selectmen voted unanimously to support money for bridge work. The $1.6 million would be spent on reconstructing the Shannon Road bridge over Providence Hill Brook and the Teague Drive bridge over the Spicket River. Both are on the state Department of Transportation’s “red list” of high-priority projects.
The money would also be used to replace a culvert on Cove Road Extension over Arlington Pond.
The board backed a $1.3 million proposal to replace the water line on North Policy Street, but the town recently learned the work is only expected to cost about $940,000. Selectmen also endorsed an article to make $750,000 in improvements at the water treatment plant.
Selectmen voted not to support funding requests from several nonprofits, including Rockingham Community Action and Child and Family Services. They did back $12,500 for the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Salem.
Campbell said deciding to give the groups money should be voters’ choice, not selectmen’s.
“We can’t give to every nonprofit, so my (advice) is we don’t give to any,” he said. “They all do good work.”
Board members, including Lyons, did support funding some of the organizations.