If Annual Town Meeting is a marathon, than Wednesday’s “Little Town Meeting” preview was a sprint. In a little over an hour, Town Manager Rocco Longo and others presented a condensed fiscal year 2005 budget for the town and all 45 articles for Town Meeting and the six for Special Town Meeting in front of a dozen or so town officials and others gathered in the Mural Room. If Annual Town Meeting is a marathon, than Wednesday’s “Little Town Meeting” preview was a sprint.

In a little over an hour, Town Manager Rocco Longo and others presented a condensed fiscal year 2005 budget for the town and all 45 articles for Town Meeting and the six for Special Town Meeting in front of a dozen or so town officials and others gathered in the Mural Room.

Before his budget presentation, Longo recognized what a difficult fiscal year it was yet how all departments were cooperative and understanding of the limited means they would have for next year.

“We ended up funding all our operations at levels less than FY04Öthat certainly tells you that the budget process was difficult,” he said.  “We worked through the process, however, and benefited from strong teamwork [from town departments].”

Longo gave brief outlines of the town’s operating budget revenues and expenses for the $48.6 million budget he and the Board of Selectmen are recommending to town voters for FY05.  This budget is nearly $500,000 less than the current year’s budget.

In reviewing expenses, he highlighted the town’s various departments and how much they were being cut.  The top three departments with the largest cuts are human services (5 percent decrease), library and recreation (3.2 percent decrease) and the school department (2.3 percent decrease).

A few departments, including the selectmen’s/town manager’s office and inspectional services reduced expenses so they did not have to cut staff instead.

In the public works section of the budget, while the town manager and selectmen recommended reducing the budget of the Tarkiln Building and offsetting it with fees, the finance committee recommended eliminating the budget and to reallocate $4,000 to fuel and building maintenance.

Longo also discussed the impact of human service cuts on the Council on Aging, which is looking into either cutting one day the senior center is open or cutting one hour from each day of the week.

After discussing the town’s capital budget of $547,923, Superintendent Eileen Williams gave a brief review of the proposed $22.9 million budget she and the school department negotiated over their five-hour session last month.

With all of the budget information delivered, Longo reviewed the 45 articles that will be presented to voters at the March 13 Annual Town Meeting.

On this year’s warrant for the Annual, the Planning Board is sponsoring 11 articles as well as two on behalf of both the Community Development Committee and the Pier Access and Shoreline Study Committee. 

The two articles for the PASS Committee regard a new pier bylaw (Article 17) and the creation of a new waterfront zoning bylaw (Article 16).  Those for the CDC require the establishment of an Economic Advisory Committee (Article 15) and Local Housing Partnership Committee (Article 30) to take over that committee’s charge that expires shortly after Town Meeting.

The Board of Selectmen are sponsoring seven articles and the Community Preservation Committee and Nuclear Advisory Committee are each sponsoring three articles.  There are also three citizen’s petitions in addition to one that is co-sponsored by the Nuclear Advisory Committee.

The Special Town Meeting within the Annual features six articles, including Article One, which seeks to appropriate $1.3 million to the Employee Benefits Health Insurance.  This continues the measure from the November 2003 Special Town Meeting to balance the health care deficit for FY04.

Other warrants include Article 3, which appropriates $1.1 million for a new water main project on Tremont Street ñ also approved at last years Special Town Meeting ñ and Article Six which authorizes the town manager to sell the fire department’s Humvee and apply all of some of the proceeds for a new four-wheel-drive truck with fire apparatus.

Both the Annual and Special Town Meeting will occur Saturday, March 13 at the new Performing Arts Center.