Morristown officials won’t put forward a final town operating budget until later this month, but they did spend some time during the holidays making their wish list and checking it at least twice.
With early drafts of the 2023-24 operating budget indicating a 30 percent increase in expenses, it’s unlikely everyone is going to get what they ask for.
“That’s too much. We’ve got to find a way to get it down, and my opinion is that budget won’t fly,” selectboard chair Bob Beeman said of preliminary expenses during a budget talk last week.
“It’s a huge number. A huge number,” added board member Don McDowell.
The highway crew intends on buying three new road vehicles in 2023 — a tandem dump truck, a smaller single-axel dump truck and a Ford F-250 pickup — in addition to some other heavy equipment, namely a sidewalk tractor and a rubber-wheeled excavator. The town would get extra value from the excavator, since it would replace their other pieces of heavy equipment.
“That’s a huge savings,” town administrator Eric Dodge said.
The police department has already signed a lease agreement on a new 2023 Chevy Tahoe to add to its fleet of pickup trucks.
Morristown Emergency Medical Services hopes to buy a new ambulance to replace its 2013 Ford model, but that vehicle will be up for a separate ballot vote on Town Meeting Day, according to town finance director Tina Sweet.
“So, you won’t see this figure in our operating expenses,” Sweet said.
It was during a discussion about how much money to allocate toward sidewalk maintenance that Beeman said a 30 percent budget increase would likely not be palatable to voters.
He said along with the equipment the various town departments are requesting, the town has also hired new staff, such as a new police officer last month. He said he thinks at least one more cop is needed, if not more, as well as similar needs on the rescue squad.
“It indicates where the budget is right now,” Beeman said. “With increases everywhere else, we’ve got to find any way we can cut it down.”
About 53 percent of the town operating budget consists of wages for employees, of which there are now more than 50, according to Dodge. Due to cost-of-living adjustments, wages and salaries will increase 8.7 percent in the next fiscal year.
What’s more, he added, the town has all but taken down its help wanted signs — he said there is only one vacancy across the board.
For Dodge, that's worth crowing about.
“There isn’t another municipality around here of our size with only one vacancy,” he claimed. “They’re all carrying multiple vacancies, which means the stress is higher on their people, their burnout rate is quicker, turnover is more and finding folks to fill the spots is becoming more and more difficult.”
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