Milton passes budget in the red, continues efforts to slash deficit

by Michael Short on September 14, 2010

By Michael Short

Milton passed a budget during the Monday, Sept. 13 town council meeting, but the town is still deeply in the red.

Town Council voted to approve a town budget with approximately a $335,000 deficit. A budget must be passed by October 1.  That was after it was whittled down from $459,000 by either not hiring or not replacing employees.

No one lost their job, but the town chose not to replace Town Finance Director Jennifer Cornell.  Officials announced Monday night that Cornell had resigned to take a position in the private sector.

Town officials also chose not to hire a code enforcer and not to replace a parks employee who is retiring.  That saved the town a total of approximately $124,000 and chopped the deficit to the $335,000 figure.

The town will continue to look for ways to cut costs and is expected to have to dip into its’ reserves in order to make ends meet. Mayor Cliff Newlands  told the audience that the bills are being paid and the town continues to run.

Town Councilwoman Deanna Duby said she was concerned that town services could suffer because of cutbacks. Duby said that the town website is not being updated and that needed letters are not being sent out. “There are things that are not being done.” She said that instead of always looking at town hall, perhaps the town should consider cuts to its’ police department. “Why aren’t we looking at the police force?” she asked, saying that is what constituents have asked her.

She said that the town could consider cutting an eleventh officer. But Newlands said that because of outside funding like grants, the town does not have to pay that officer’s salary. While there are other costs, he said “we can put an officer on the street for about $4,000.”

No matter where the additional cuts are made, the town will have to continue looking for ways to save money. Newlands said the town is considering ways to save energy as well as printing costs. “We are going to continue to look at cost saving measures.”

While the town was struggling with a budget, it also received a less than positive report from the state auditor’s office. A representative from the office said the auditor is recommending a consulting firm to “shore up your accounting practices.”

The speaker told the town council that there were various red flags that showed up when looking at town account practices, including “a lack of written polices and procedures.”

“If we came in right now, because you lack polices and procedures, the results of an audit wouldn’t be good,” she said. “I’m suggesting you take a close look at it.”

Duby pressed her, asking if the issues could simply be sloppy bookkeeping or something criminal. “It could be any of those or a combination,” she said, saying she simply could not say without more information.

The auditor’s office will be on the agenda again for the October 4 town meeting.

Newlands said the biggest problem has been declining revenues brought on by the declining housing market. “We didn’t adjust,” said Councilwoman Joanna Martin-Brown. “But neither did Wall Street.”

“We’re not alone,” Duby said, noting a recent story on Wilmington’s financial worries.

“Reluctantly, but yes,” said Councilwoman Leah Betts when asked for her vote on the budget.

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