Town Council Grills Town Administrator About Suspected 'New Hires' in Budget
The Town Council provisionally approved department budgets very early Wednesday morning at Town Hall. The first public hearing on the budget is slated for June 22.
After the repetition of question after question, the second half of Tuesday’s Town Council meeting felt something like a scene out of the movie Groundhog Day.
Councilors Joseph Robicheau, Judi Staven, Liz Pedro and Paul Kesson repeatedly asked how many “new hires” were reflected in the proposed budget for the police, fire and public works departments.
“There’s no new hires in this (police department) budget,” said Town Administrator Robert Driscoll. “We’ve gone about this before…We had one vacancy right now (in the fire department) because of the retirement of the deputy chief. When we replace that person, that is one hire. That money was in the budget last year. That money is in the budget this year…They are not new positions.”
Only one new hire was included among the three department budgets in question. There was an extra hire included in the Department of Public Works budget.
Despite the clarification on the proposed budget, Larry Fitzmorris spoke out about hiring new town employees.
“We are considering hiring five people in the middle of a recession,” Fitzmorris said. “I find that outstanding."
The meeting finally came to a close at 12:15 a.m. with the following votes taken:
- Approval of the existing Portsmouth Police Department’s tentative budget with no changes. The vote was 5-2 with Kesson and Staven opposed.
- Motion to add $16,000 to Department of Public Works’ budget. The extra money would fund a $14,000 scope camera to check illicit discharge from storm drains and an additional $2,000 for supplies. The motion failed in a 4-3 vote with Michael Buddemeyer, Keith Hamilton and Jim Seveney in favor.
- Motion to keep the Department of Public Works (DPW) budget at more than $2.08 million with the one additional hire. The motion failed in a 4-3 vote with Buddemeyer, Hamilton and Seveney in favor.
- Motion to approve the DPW budget without the one new hire, leaving the budget at $2,026,220. “You’re asking the DPW to do more work and given them less dollars,” Hamilton said in response to the motion. “The grass will grow. The town will live,” Staven responded. The motion passed 4-3 with Hamilton, Seveney and Buddemeyer opposed.
- Robicheau then motioned to add $16,000 to the DPW budget for the new camera and supplies. The motion passed in a 5-2 vote with Pedro and Kesson against.
- The council then voted unanimously to provisionally approve the DPW’s new department budget.
- Finance Director David Faucher announced, due to changes, the school department’s new budget totals $37,169,304. The council voted to approve the new figure 4-3 with Staven, Pedro and Kesson against.
- At 11:50 p.m., Robicheau proposed reducing the school department’s budget by $150,000. “I’m fearful of asking the question, but the reason behind the 150,000,” Buddemeyer asked. “The reason I proposed this or asked for a proposal is because I believe the school committee is very capable, they've just proven to me, they are better than we are at finding savings. I’m convinced they will find the savings and it will not impact any programs and not impact the kids,” Robicheau said. The motion failed in a 6-1 vote with only Robicheau in favor.
- Hamilton motioned to approve the school department’s $37,169,304 budget. The motion passed 4-3 with Pedro, Staven and Robicheau against.
- At just after 12:05 a.m., the council provisionally approved the town budget at $57,593,756, an increase of 4.6 percent over last year. The vote to approve was 5-2 with Staven and Pedro against.
The first public hearing on the budget will be held on June 22 at 7 p.m. at the Portsmouth Middle School.