By Edith Tucker
The Berlin Sun
GORHAM — Selectmen chairman Terry Oliver noted near the end of Tuesday evening’s budget review that this has been the most challenging preparation since he has been in office, starting in 2012.
Police chief P.J. Cyr was the only department head who attended the session, but others are expected to be on hand at for the Monday, Dec. 11, meeting. The board is preparing to send its finalized version to the budget committee.
The chief’s proposed budget was $695,249, down by a little more than $24,000 from $719,416 in 2017. Selectman Pat Lefebvre pointed out, however, that it was not reasonable to have so much part-time and overtime built into the budget when the department now has seven full-time certified officers.
Both he and selectman Mike Waddell agreed that the chief should give up using a five-year rolling average as his basis for budgeting, and instead build his budget on what he now anticipates in 2018. Cost categories in each of the last several years have not been typical because of retention woes, plus a medical leave at one point. Officers have often been forced to work far more overtime than they wanted to.
Waddell said that it would not surprise him if an officer — or even two — left in the upcoming year, just because that has become a pattern. Should that happen, he said he would not want “burnout” conditions repeated, further aggravating the problem.
The only solution, Oliver said, would be to reduce coverage by eliminating some shift time hours beyond those that the two salaried officers are able to cover.
The board agreed to maintain a three-cruiser fleet in 2018 and in the future, and to give up today’s mileage-heavy fourth vehicle, no longer suitable for patrol.
The department’s new software package apparently needs some tweaking so that it can accurately track officer activity, such as overtime, part-time, holidays, court time and training.
Lefebvre said he would like to see the library trustees cut their $10,000 request for capital reserves.
He also wanted to skip a year in moving forward with a townwide LED highway light replacement program, saving $25,000 in outlay in 2018. Waddell noted, however, that there is a two-year savings payback. Town manager Robin Frost and Director of Finance and Administration Denise Vallee will review the program, as well as the possible use of a low-interest loan Community Development Finance Authority, and create a spreadsheet so the board can make an informed decision.
Lefebvre said he would like to see Parks & Recreation Director Jeff Stewart shift nearly $30,000 in costs to the revolving fund. Waddell said he would want to be assured that the director agrees with this change.
Lefebvre also said he would like to see if the loader replacement in the public works department, likely a $35,000-a-year cost for five years, could be delayed for a year until 2019. Waddell said that it not only takes a lot of time to keep it serviceable, but that there is lots of rust all around the cab, meaning it could collapse disastrously while a town employee is operating it.
The machine is frequently in use, Frost said.
Director “Buddy” Holmes’ opinion will be sought.
Waddell suggested that the $3,000 cost of live streaming/taping the select board and other meetings be eliminated and that instead a YouTube taping be substituted. A camera could be purchased for $1,200, he said, and dispatch could upload the program. The town now owns 11-year-old cameras, but new ones have far higher clarity and resolution.
This brought up the topic of the town of Gorham coming up with another way of charging Shelburne, Randolph and Coos County for Dispatch services, likely not based on the number of calls. Frost is taking the lead in coming up with a proposal.
The board discussed the importance of leaving sufficient monies in reserves so that the town can come up with matching Federal Emergency Management Agency or other emergency programs at flooding locations, including Stony Brook, Spring Road and Libby Pool and Recreation.