Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

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April 10, 2014

Town manager's budget plan squeaks through — but not without much scrutiny

Manager's budget plan squeaks through -- but not without debate

As the old saying goes, it’s best not to watch laws and sausages being made.

That was the case Monday night when the Board of Selectmen, joined by the Finance Committee, approved the $160 million town budget that is being prepped and readied for Town Meeting voters next month.

They went through the budget, department by department — cutting, trimming, nipping and tucking, sometimes quickly, other times with great consternation.

Some votes put entire departments in flux.

When a vote on the $7.5 million general government budget failed because selectmen couldn’t agree on how to pay for a $37,500 technology worker, Chairman Alex Vispoli said: “We have nothing now.”

Town Manager Buzz Stapczynski added, “We are trying to put together a budget. How do we put together a budget with a hole in it?”

Eventually, selectmen voted to hire someone in the IT department and pay the individual out of the salary account, which is what Stapczynski originally proposed.

A discussion on hiring an electrician for the $10 million Municipal Services Department led to another lengthy debate, with Vispoli arguing that the person should be brought on temporarily or as a contract worker.

The position was pushed by Information Technology Director Paul Puzzanghera, who said it wasn’t really an electrician he wanted, but a “low-voltage expert” with a working knowledge of digital platforms.

Vispoli countered that such a position didn’t need to be permanent.

“For this type of operation, don’t add full-time equivalents,” Vispoli said. “There are other ways to get things done. We need to see how we can come to this without adding full-time people to the town’s head count.”

He added, “We tend to default to hiring a full-time person. We always have. We need this person, so hire this person.”

It took the board three votes before Selectman Dan Kowalski broke the deadlock by adding wording that the position be for “one year only, to be re-evaluated” later in the year. That proposal passed narrowly, with Vispoli and newly elected Selectman Mary O’Donoghue voting against it.

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