Wiscasset continues budget work

Posted:  Wednesday, March 7, 2018 - 9:30am

Wiscasset is continuing its budget workshops over this week and next. On March 1, the town reviewed budgets for administration, animal control, assessing, boards and committees, community organizations, contractual services, county taxes, elections, general assistance, unemployment insurance, public utilities, public works, selectmen, shellfish and wastewater. 

The wastewater budget increased from $451,831 to $546,298, or nearly 21 percent. According to Buck Rines, the treatment plant has been receiving fines regularly for not having proper staffing. The fines have been between $13,000 and $17,000, although they were negotiated down to $2,000 with the stipulation the plant would hire the additional person needed. The plant also needs an upgrade, he said, although that is not budgeted. The plant could take a fine for not testing the water or not responding to an alarm at the pump station, he said. “We really need another person. The plant was designed for four people.”

Due to changes to the utilities in Maine Department of Transportation’s right of way, there will be more costs for replacing pipes and manhole covers during the downtown improvement project. If the town were not in litigation with MDOT, the cost to the town would be less for these repairs, because the town could go out to bid with MDOT, which is also having work done.

Town Manager Marian Anderson said this is the year that talk of a rate increase must take place, so the necessary upgrade – already six years overdue – could be funded. She said the town has been successful after putting liens on properties for failing to pay outstanding bills. The rate increase analysis is a three-year process.

“We demonstrated that we need the rate increase in the past year,” Rines said. “Now we need to determine what the rate increase should be and implement it.” Wastewater funding comes from an enterprise fund, with rates set for use, and no taxpayer funds can be used for capital improvement.

A perennial sore point was touched on regarding the issue of private hydrants at Mason Station. The town believes it should be part of the fire protection fees already being charged by the Water District; the Water District has been billing for those hydrants separately because they were previously owned by the developer, even though they have been owned by the town for nearly two years. Anderson said she would seek clarification and ask the trustees of the Water District to come to a select board meeting. As it stands, with the increase in water costs and the private hydrant issue, the public utilities budget increased by $56,675, or 25.7 percent.

Anderson also said the costs of legal services have been very high this year. She said the costs of litigation for the Wawenock suit and the MDOT suit alone for FY18 have been more than $70,000, and those were not the only suits the town was involved in. This increased contractual services by $44,300 this year, or 38.2 percent, and that was after taking some of the funding from the contingency account.

On March 5, selectmen and budget committee met again, to discuss the town clerk’s budget, code enforcement, the transfer station, finance, the contingency fund, and the senior center. The only real cost driver in this group of budgets was a new trailer, needed by the transfer station, and an increase in the cost of diesel fuel, estimated to be up by 40 cents per gallon this year. The transfer station budget rose from $555,873 to $590,697, an increase of $34,824, or 6.3 percent.

The finance budget fell by $7,608, despite having to buy new software licenses.

Due to the impending snowstorm on Thursday, March 8, the planned meeting was postponed to Monday, March 12 at 6 p.m., barring additional weather issues. The Monday meeting will cover the airport, cemetery, public works, parks and recreation, and the municipal building.