Friday, March 19, 2021

Windham budget proposal works toward council vote

The Windham Town Council will receive a proposed budget
for Fiscal Year 2021-2022 of $35,115,270 during a scheduled
meeting on April 6. The budget amount is up slightly from
2020-2021's budget of $35,048,303, yet the proposed mil
rate of 4.4 is the same as last year. PHOTO BY ED PIERCE
Town could create new ballfields at Manchester School location

By Ed Pierce

Windham has moved a step closer to formulating a town budget for the next fiscal year following a review of proposed expenditures and funding during a town finance committee meeting on Tuesday evening.

On Zoom, Windham Finance Committee members reviewed and discussed the proposed 2021-2022 budget with the town manager and department heads prior to presenting the proposal to the town council at an upcoming meeting.

Windham Town Councilors are expected to take up the proposed budget in April and make whatever adjustments are required before residents vote on the budget at the annual town meeting on June 12.

During this review, Windham Town Manager Barry Tibbetts told finance committee members that the budget contains funding to create two new ballfields, one for softball, one for baseball and another separate recreational field on unused property behind Manchester School.

Tibbetts said that he’s held discussions with RSU 14 Schools Superintendent Christopher Howell about developing the site, which is adjacent to several existing baseball fields there used by the Windham Softball Association and Windham Little League. Clearing and developing the wooded area would take more than a year and would also lead to the creation of a road that would connect Route 302 and Route 115.

“These new fields would be funded by town impact fees and debt retirement,” Tibbetts said. “There will be no changes to the mil rate in doing this.”

In addition to that project, Tibbetts said the budget proposal also includes funding to expand the Lowell Preserve parking lot.

“We can absorb both of these projects with debt retirement and some impact fees,” he said.

Windham Parks and Recreation Director Linda Brooks said because of COVID, the past year has been a significant challenge as more area residents discovered town parks and trails as a great way to get outdoors and have fun during the pandemic.

“We really brought forward new and unique ways for recreation,” Brooks told the committee members. “More people are using the trails and parks for outdoor activities than ever before. As we move forward in the next fiscal year, we’ve had to decide what new programs to offer and what programs can be sustained.”

Brooks said that because more people are now familiar with Windham’s trails system, she expects trail usage to be even busier in the year ahead.

Brooks was one of several Windham department leaders to present ideas and discuss funding requests and proposals during the Finance Committee meeting. Departments presenting budget proposals at this meeting included Fire and Rescue, Police, Communications, and Public Works.

At a previous Finance Committee meeting on March 10, departments presenting budget requests and proposals included the Town Clerk’s Office, Assessing, Code Enforcement, Planning, Windham Public Library and the Windham Economic Development Corporation.

During Tuesday’s presentations, Tibbetts revealed his list of budget proposal adjustments.

Some of that proposed funding includes $242,673 for Parks and Recreation; $86,729 for Parks and Trails; $12,250 for SummerFest; $2,426,818 for Fire/Rescue, water hydrants and fire/rescue vehicle maintenance; $2,730,346 for Police with $43,104 for Animal Control, and $100,660 for police vehicle maintenance.

Other proposed 2021-2022 funding discussed at Tuesday’s Finance Committee meeting includes $445,153 for Communications; $842,760 for highway maintenance; $48,000 for traffic safety devices and equipment; $209,000 for traffic lights and signals; $45,000 for winter highway sand; $129,986 for snow removal; $598,771 for building maintenance and $98,581 for grounds maintenance. The proposed budget also includes $540,399 for vehicle maintenance and fuel costs and $277,250 for waste disposal.

Tibbetts said this budget’s goal is to maintain the services and programs of the town while implementing capital improvements to improve the community.

“In the proposed budget 2021-2022, we are looking to accomplish several objectives; hold the budget increase due to the COVID impacts on residents and businesses, continue with the paving and equipment replacement programs, develop recreational playing fields and playground while expanding parking at Lowell,” Tibbetts said. “The first item is to hold or limit any increases in the budget to the minimum based on the COVID impact to residents and businesses. The municipal budget increase is at 0.33 percent, or flat or no increase to the mil rate.” 

According to Tibbetts, Windham does have some retiring debt from leases and bonds and needs to use that borrowing capacity to address a number of paving projects around the town which were delayed last year.  He said this will also result in no impact to the mil rate.

“We need to address a few personnel positions which will provide better service and position the town for the future,” he said. “Those positions include Fire/Rescue, Assistant Town Manger and additional code enforcement staff. We have several parks projects which will address parking at Lowell field, provide three new fields at Manchester School and we are working with the RSU on this plan, continued improvements at the Community Park and a playground at Lowell.”

Without significant changes made before being discussed and voted on by the Windham Town Council, Tibbetts will propose a budget of $35,115,270 to councilors on April 6. That amount is up marginally from 2020-2021’s budget of $35,048,303 with the mil rate of 4.4 that is  unchanged from last year’s budget.

The RSU 14 school budget has yet to be determined. <

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