Easton voters approved a $66,894,757 budget for Fiscal Year 2012 Monday night at Town Meeting with a 1.74 percent increase over the current year.
The budget, which calls $600,000 worth of cuts in town departments and $900,000 worth of cuts in the school department, was slightly different than what Town Administrator David Colton had presented at a Board of Selectmen meeting last week. Rather than cutting three positions from the fire department, Colton said he and Selectman Sean Noonan were able to work out a "compromise" with the Finance Committee and the Department of Public Works that salvaged one firefighter spot.
As approved by town voters, the plan eliminates two positions in the Fire Department, two positions in the Police Department, two positions in the Department of Public Works, two clerks in Town Hall and 18 positions in the School Department.
Originally, Colton had called for the elimination of three firefighter positions and one DPW position. He said the new budget would allow for all three of Easton's fire stations to remain open more often.
"That gives us a full eight firefighter compliment for each group," said Colton. "It will severely curtail the number of times he’ll have to close the station after September."
Currently, one Easton Firefighter is serving oversees in active military duty. According to Colton and Fire Chief , he will be returning shortly - which also will add another hand to the fire department.
The money to salvage the one firefighter position came from the DPW, Colton said. He said he and DPW Director Wayne Southworth anticipated a vacancy in the near future that would free-up $45,000.
The Board of Selectmen approved Colton's budget before bringing it before Town Meeting.
"No one likes to make cuts in public safety – I’d like to thank Wayne [Southworth] for coming to the decision to let go of that [position]," Board of Selectmen Chair said. "Fire and police are public safety, but so is DPW."
Colton said Easton's Depot Street Fire Station would still have to be closed for most of the summer and part of the fall as a new firefighter trains at the Firefighter Academy.
The change in Colton's plan came after the the elimination of a Foreman's position in the Highway Department last week while cutting the hours of a clerk in Town Hall to add additional police and firefighters.
Finance Committee Chair Kimberly Dubois later made a motion at Town Meeting to reduce the clerk's hours and the budget of the Collector and Treasurer's office by $18,000 to provide more funding for the Fire Department.
Town voters disagreed with the motion.
Colton said cutting a clerk's hours in the collector's/treasurer's office would hurt the flow of Town Offices.
Town Accountant Wendy Nightingale said before Town Meeting that all of the town's funds pass through the collector and treasurer's office, and reducing a position would cause a back-up in Town Offices.
Colton said he attempted to cut the clerk's hours in the past.
"Every dollar comes across that window," he said. "We can’t do it without two full time people. We fell behind. We closed the books late that year. It was very disruptive to the financial operation of this town."