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Chipping, spraying cut from budget

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In one local town, about 5,500 residents no longer can leave tree branches at the wastewater building to be picked up and chipped, and trucks won’t come through with a spray meant to kill mosquitoes; and the annual leaf pickup might be canceled, too.

New Whiteland had to cut its 2014 spending by $141,000, or about 9 percent; and those two services are among the first cuts. Other services might be dropped later to save money, including curbside leaf pickup in the fall, town council member John Perrin said.

The limb drop-off and mosquito spraying services were among the first to be cut because they were labor-intensive, Clerk-Treasurer Maribeth Alspach said. They are the most visible changes residents will notice, but not where the town is making the most reductions.

The town had to reduce its $1.5 million budget due to property tax caps, Alspach said. In 2008, the state legislature limited property taxes to no more than

1 percent of the value of a home, 2 percent of agricultural or rental property and 3 percent of commercial or industrial property. The town lost money to the tax caps year after year and is finally feeling the impact of the losses, she said.

The impact wasn’t immediate because of financial changes the town was able to make. For example, in 2012, the town sold the water utility and made $4.6 million off that sale.

The town invested the money and is using the funds for purchases, such as a new office building, which should save money in maintenance and utility costs because the police department, town hall and council chambers can all be in one place.

And in 2013, the town refinanced its debt, for an annual savings of about $355,527, which has helped fund annual expenses, Alspach said.

Now, the town is having to adjust to a new reality — that the $141,000 lost to the tax caps each year is not coming back, she said. Officials need to cut spending to make up for those losses, she said.

Alspach doesn’t expect the town’s budget to grow until more property taxes come in from new house construction, and no new subdivisions are underway. So, she’s reminding other town officials while planning their budgets for next year that new money isn’t coming, she said.

“This is our new reality. Somehow, you’ve got to keep things running with a smaller bank account to pay for it with,” Alspach said.

Eliminating mosquito fogging and tree limb chipping should save the town about $12,000 per year.

The town won’t hire a company to chop tree branches into pieces for $1,000 to $2,000 each year and won’t pay to fill dumpsters with the wood mulch residents don’t take.

And without the mosquito fogging, the town won’t have to buy chemicals and have employees work overtime to spray them in neighborhoods. The town already sold the chemical tanks for $1,500.

Those services were the first to go because they made the most sense to cut, town council member Joseph Noonan said. Officials realized mosquito fogging was ineffective, and businesses were using the town’s tree limb disposal service more often than the town could handle, he said.

Now, residents will have to cut up their branches and leave them at the curb for heavy trash pickup day once a month, he said.

Each town office has had to study its budget closely, looking for savings wherever each can, though no employees were laid off, Alspach said. For example, she won’t hire a part-time assistant for her office this year with an approximately $20,000 salary, as she had planned.

Playground equipment also was trimmed from the budget. The town had planned to spend $15,000 annually on new playground equipment for its parks but now won’t buy new playground equipment at all, she said.

The police department isn’t buying officers new uniforms every summer and fall anymore but instead will replace pants and shirts as needed, Alspach said.

The department also is doing more training locally. Some of the officers are instructors at the state police academy and can teach specialty classes, such as on interviewing techniques or getting recertified to conduct alcohol breath tests.

“It’s just like at home. You’ve just got to tighten your belt and live within your means,” she said.

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