BAR HARBOR — Rising expenses and decreasing revenues have led town councilors to propose a budget for the 2015-2016 fiscal year (beginning July 1) that includes a 4.9 percent hike in property taxes.
Under the proposal, the mill rate would rise from $10.22 to $10.72. This would translate into a yearly increase in property taxes of $147 for the owner of a median-valued home worth $295,000.
Town councilors met several times this month to review the $15.6 million budget, originally introduced by Town Manager Cornell Knight with a 5 percent rise in taxes. The proposed budget now goes before the warrant committee for review.
Among the rise in expenses are increased fire hydrant rental costs, needed technology and fire equipment supplies and employee cost-of-living and health insurance reimbursement increases. Revenues are suffering from lower ambulance billing, decreased revenue sharing from the state and lower building permit fees, among other things.
“We’ve seen either flat or shrinking revenues the last few years, as most communities have,” town treasurer Stan Harmon said. “And expenses are going up higher than inflation.”
Town employees this year are set to receive a 1.7 percent cost-of-living increase, along with another 1 percent raise to offset their increased share of health insurance costs. This rise in wages, totaling over $100,000, accounts for over a third of the budget increase.
Hydrant rentals fees that the town pays to its own water division are slated to rise 9 percent, or $43,000 annually, this year. The increase reflects an anticipated increase in water rates of 18 percent as of Jan. 2016, Harmon said.
Water rates are expected to rise to accommodate over $1.5 million in water infrastructure work that will accompany the state-sponsored rebuild of Route 3 in 2016.
The cost of new computer purchases, including replacement rugged laptops for emergency vehicles, are expected to top $25,000, while much-needed turnout gear and firefighting equipment will cost approximately $10,000. Along with these cost increases, the money paid into Mount Desert High School is expected to rise close to $185,000 over last year, although numbers are not yet finalized.
Revenues, meanwhile, are projected to slip in many areas. Building permits are expected to shrink $25,000 from this year’s projected level, while ambulance billing is off by $10,000. This latter is due both to a lower frequency of calls and a reduced reimbursement rate from Medicare, Harmon said. Maine revenue sharing is expected to be down 7.5 percent, while excise taxes are expected to remain flat.
New positions in this year’s budget include a planning director and an administrative assistant in the police department. The cost of the latter position is being shared with the town of Mount Desert. The cost to Bar Harbor for the shared police chief with Mount Desert and the administrative assistant is equal to the previous cost of a full-time police chief here, Knight said.
The planning position is budgeted at just under $65,000.