Wiscasset budget talks: Nuke taxes, lease idea, mice attack and an upside down roof

Mon, 02/19/2024 - 8:45am

    One way to help keep the principal intact on Wiscasset’s capital reserve might be to lease, not buy, some of the smaller vehicles needed such as cruisers, Town Manager Dennis Simmons told selectmen and the budget committee Saturday morning, Feb. 17 in a budget workshop that aired a surprise about the sewer department, a possible 8% hike in town costs and, offsetting that increase, a $568,872 hike in projected revenue and $79,838 from the fund balance.

    Simmons cautioned, whether or not Maine Yankee pays what the town has assessed it at is a matter that has hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue riding on it, in the town’s court appeal of a state decision; a bill in committee in the Legislature; and a “settlement” Maine Yankee has said it is committed to reaching with the town on a property tax agreement.

    “Depending on where that lands, it could have an effect on the tax side of this budget. If we end up with a whole lot less than what they’re currently assessed at, that will affect the taxation rate in some manner. And at this point we just don’t know what that is. Right now, this year, it’s about a $900,000 difference ... We have a half a million dollars sitting in our overlay that we raised in taxes this year to help offset that.” 

    On the vehicle lease idea, Simmons said it would shift the cost from capital reserve to taxation. Last year’s capital spending tap nearly dipped into the reserve’s original principal, Simmons said. “Somehow, we’ve got to try to break out of that trap.” But he is not sure the leasing should be tried this year, because interest rates are “really high. Or, if we can get a rate that’s adjustable, so when rates start going down, the interest rates go down a little bit.” 

    Outside the police department, which is still in contract negotiations, the beginning draft budget includes a 7.5% raise for most full-time, union workers and in that range for a lot of the non-union ones; and 5% for most department heads, Simmons said. Starting last year, some part-time jobs were converted to full-time, which is better for staffing parks and recreation and the ambulance service, he said; no additional full-time jobs are being created for 2024-25.

    Simmons said the LED (light-emitting diode) street lights the town bought are yielding tremendous savings, but he did not lower the public utilities budget “too much” –  by 7.1%, according to information the town released ahead of the workshop – because he has no idea yet what it will cost to maintain those lights. 

    Amid Saturday’s talks, two department heads each mentioned a recent problem at their facility: Wiscasset Municipal Airport’s manager, Rick Tetrev, described “an attack of mice that crossed the whole airport.” He and other speakers said the mice pulled out a furnace’s insulation, got into hangars and underneath planes.

    “They wrecked my car,” Simmons said. “My car’s been in the garage for three weeks because they’ve gotten into my car and been chewing on the wiring.”

    And the sewer treatment plant’s superintendent, Rob Lalli, said recent high winds peeled back part of a building’s roof and he has since been told the roof was installed upside down. “Oh, no, no, no,” Selectman Terry Heller reacted. The wood is rotted “clear across the roof, even though (the roof) only peeled about a third of the way back,” Lalli said.

    He and Simmons doubted insurance will cover it. Lalli cited in his budget $30,000 he hopes will be enough to possibly replace the roof. “We may have to put a roof on a building that might only be here another five or seven years.” The town has been looking at moving the plant, for climate resilience.