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Merrimack Valley

May 7, 2013

Voters approve town budget of $144.9M

ANDOVER — Some 400 voters took up 25 articles at the annual Town Meeting last night, with much of the discussion focused on the town’s $144.9 million budget for the next fiscal year and how officials are managing employee retirement benefits.

Voting pushed past 10:30 p.m. last night and will continue tonight at the Andover High School Field House on Shawsheen Road. A heavy slate of zoning issues and a special Town Meeting on distributing a $1.4 million trust fund to the Cormier Family Youth Center and elderly programming will taken up tonight when the meeting resumes at 7 p.m.

Much of last night’s discussion was stirred by residents Bob Pokress and Bob Landry, who founded the website TownOfAndover.com with past-Finance Committee member Greg Rigby around a month ago. Pokress asked officials if they were aware how much of the town’s $14 million in public safety personal services — salaries and benefits for police and fire personnel — was being paid out in retirement benefits.

After Town Manager Reginald “Buzz” Stapczynski said he didn’t know how much the town was appropriating for benefits, other officials defended the town’s handling of such costs.

Landry asked voters to reduce the $14 million appropriated for town employees’ health insurance down to $12.9 million, saying there were ways the town could save on escalating costs. The amendment failed.

Voters narrowly agreed to pay former Superintendent Claudia Bach $1,397.51 to resolve a recently discovered contract issue relating to her longevity with the district. They also narrowly approved a $2.5 million proposal to renovate paved areas around Doherty Middle School.

Voters also rejected two articles — one to spend $500,000 on renovating the Ballardvale Fire Station proposed by ex-Town Manager Richard Bowen, and another to increase the town’s cost-of-living adjustment for retirees from $12,000-a-year to $14,000 a year.

The final vote of the night was in Article 25, aimed at raising $245,000 for a new fire rescue ambulance. The article passed by a mere six votes.

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