Selectmen seek flat town budget

Posted:  Friday, December 1, 2017 - 8:45am

The Wiscasset select board told the Budget Committee Nov. 30, the board’s goal for the 2018-19 budget is to keep property taxes as close to flat as possible.

Board Chair Judy Colby said it won’t be easy. There are costs the select board has no control over, she said.

“Our main goal is to keep the budget flat.” Besides payroll and insurances increases she said, the board couldn’t predict how much the county and school budget might rise. The board is planning a joint meeting with the school committee in the near future. 

Town Manager Marian Anderson said she will have a starting point for the budget to share with the board Dec. 5.

“Even if we can hold it flat we can probably expect a tax increase,” commented Vice Chair Ben Rines Jr.

Selectman Bob Blagden said he was holding out hope of getting back some of the 14 percent tax increase of 2016. 

Colby said two new businesses, a coffee roaster and a dollar store, have expressed an interest in locating here and there was a possible housing development in the works on Clark’s Point. Until the town increases its tax base the board will continue to face budget constraints, Colby said.

In response to a question, Anderson told the budget committee the town office had made “incredible progress” in the collection of unpaid property taxes and delinquent sewer accounts.

Anderson added there was very little fat left to trim from departmental budgets and warned against further reduction. Police, fire, EMS, parks and recreation, and treatment plant employees were all called on to work extra hours during the October storm emergency. Unforeseen events like these and other unexpected expenses are when these few extra dollars  built into the budgets are necessary, she explained.

The municipal side of the budget gets all the blame when property taxes rise, she continued. “When property taxes rose 14 percent in 2016, the municipal budget increased $63,000, while the school budget rose $385,000.” At the same time the town had to raise another $228,000; the first payment on the 10-year bond needed to cover the Regional School Unit 12 withdrawal, she said.

Anderson said she’s had to fend off criticism for only coming up with $431,107 of the $500,000 in budget reductions the select board wants. Reducing the budget more would mean the elimination of a department she repeated.

Her list of budget reductions included eliminating $67,800 in donations to Wiscasset Public Library and non-profit organizations. “If you can’t fund EMS, police, fire and the other departments, you shouldn’t be extending funding to outside agencies,” she said.

Anderson added Wiscasset was fortunate in that it had over $10.9 million invested in capital reserves it could draw from and another $3.14 million in endowments. Taking into consideration the services and amenities like the community center and airport, property taxes were lower here then many surrounding communities, she said.

Anderson will share additional budget information with the select board Tuesday. Also on the 6 p.m. agenda will be a discussion of the litigation over the Maine Department of Transportation’s downtown project. Anderson said the legal line is over-drafted and needs addressing.

Budget Committee Chair William Laliberte called the Nov. 30 meeting productive.