KEENE - Town board members received copies of the Keene tentative budget for 2012 at Tuesday night's bimonthly meeting after a month's delay in its presentation as a result of the post-Irene cleanup effort.
The tax rate will increase, but it's unclear by what percentage at this time.
"It's difficult to say because we don't know; we haven't even addressed the money that is going to be spent to repair damages from the storm," town Supervisor Bill Ferebee said. "We could be looking at a $1.4 (million), $1.5 million cost between roads and walls and everything, so we haven't really addressed that yet as far as what's that going to do to our budget. Hopefully, we'll get our 87.5 percent FEMA reimbursement, so in all reality, that $1.5 million, we could only be obligated 12.5 percent."
The board voted to introduce a resolution that would give the town the option to override the state's 2 percent tax levy cap if needed.
"It's only a precautionary measure," Ferebee said. "It's not saying we'll need to, but because of timing to do the override, we have to have a public hearing, so it can't be done at the last minute."
That public hearing will occur at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 9 in the town hall in Keene, with a regular town meeting scheduled afterward at 5:30 p.m.
"We're working as hard as we can to keep the tax levy down, but I think constituents of the town realize that we have a huge expense to bring things back to the way they were," Ferebee said. "If we didn't have Irene, we wouldn't even be discussing the 2 percent tax cap; we could fall underneath that even with the increases in insurances that we have no control over."
Ferebee said that under the 2 percent tax cap, the town could only increase the amount to be raised by taxes by approximately $53,000 from 2011, meaning $1,674,873 could be raised by taxes under the cap for 2012.
"Basically, when we start working on our budget and we have a clearer idea of how much all this flood has impacted us and what we can realistically expect to impact us financially, then we'll know whether we're within $53,000," Councilman Robert Biesemeyer said. "So as far as our real budget, we're OK without surprises."
The total spending in the general fund for 2012 is tentatively $1,242,646, which is less than 2011's $1,285,470, despite requests for pay raises for town employees.
"In our group of elected officials, except the highway superintendent, I put in a 3 percent raise for all employees excluding the highway guys," Ferebee said. "The highway has put in for a 6 percent increase. It's tentative, so it's what they are applying for. Everything else in the budget in the general (fund) has stayed the same as last year's budget with the exception of the 3 percent increase in payroll, a reduction in the attorney section."
The highway budget has increased by $135,440 for 2012, totaling $1,034,007 compared to 2011's total of $898,566.
The largest highway increased expense was for blacktop. It went from $75,000 for 2011 to $213,450 for 2012.
"The largest increase is the increase in budgeting for blacktop to repair the roads that were damaged by the tropical storm," Ferebee said. "We anticipate receiving FEMA funding to reimburse us 87.5 percent, but at this time there is no guarantee that we're going to get that FEMA fund reimbursement, so we have to budget for it."
The library budget has increased by $2,175 for 2012 as a result of the 3 percent pay increase request, $500 for equipment and a $500 capital reserve.
The Water 1 fund is down $2,000 due to the way state retirement payments fell, whereas Water 2 is up by $1,900 due to the 3 percent employee pay increase.
A special town board meeting will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 2 at 5:30 p.m. at the town hall so the preliminary budget can be filed with the town clerk.