By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – With three budget sessions down and one to go, the council continues to sweat the small stuff, hoping to find a way to ease the constraints of the tax cap on making ends meet.
Still to come, Thursday's Fire and Emergency Management departments, which represents the largest slice of the town's $40 million budget pie, at about $11 million.
Last Thursday's budget workshop focused largely on the assessor's office, which reflected the town's lack of revenues from building permits. With some new and pending projects on the horizon, Assessor Dave Gomez told the council that projections for improvements in those areas – due in large part to the draw of the TIF district – were a sign of progress.
One unexpected boost in revenue comes from the timber tax, which shows a 500 percent increase in revenues for 2011 over 2010.
“We have people cutting off the land, probably due to the economy, to make extra money,” said Gomez. He said historically, revenue from woodcutting died off in the 1990s, but with people looking for alternative heat sources in the past year or so due to oil prices, management of local forest land for selective cutting and farming has been revived.
Councilor Brian Chirichiello asked if Gomez thought the uptick in timber harvesting was too aggressive, but Gomez said he felt it was within reason, and didn't believe the trend would continue.
A four hour budget session Saturday dealt mainly with the $8 million Public Works budget, which oversees many of the town's services, including highway and trash services.
Highway Director Alan Cote responded to the recommendation made at the beginning of the budget process by Town Administrator Gary Stenhouse, that council consider slashing the highway maintenance budget by $400,000, which would stall the road paving schedule for at least a year.
Cote told the council that the cost of paving material continues to rise, having gone from $28 a ton in the 1980s to $75 per ton.
Council Kevin Coyle reiterated his concerns over making such a large cut to the highway department without a clear plan to recoup the loss in future budgets.
“That's a horrible idea, to cut $400,000 from a budget that should have $2 million. We'll never get that money back, never,” Coyle said.
During the session on Code Enforcement, the council left the workshop for a non-public session when discussion turned to personnel.
Water and Wastewater budget discussions mainly revolved around the potential for economic development by extending water and sewer south along Bypass 28.
Councilor Janet Fairbanks reminded the council that approval of the TIF district was an either/or scenario, which meant focusing the town's future development in that area before taking on another development project.
Tom Carrier, Deputy Public Works Director, told the council that part of his budget included the engineering costs for the future development of that area, a project that has been floated for years. He said having a “shovel-ready” project might help expedite the work in the event that more stimulus money became available. He explained that the town did not qualify for a recent round of ARRA funding, in part, for lack of a completed plan.
Councilor Joel Olbricht said the project had merit, and getting the engineering done sooner than later was a logical step forward.
The final budget session is scheduled for Thursday at the town municipal center, to look at the Fire and Emergency Management budgets.