BAR HARBOR — Over homemade cookies and budget binders, relations between the Town Council and Warrant Committee here seem to have improved after the monthslong probe for documents this winter. At their annual joint meeting Tuesday, the two groups amicably made alterations to the town budget that will land on the June town meeting warrant.
“We’ve got all these sweets in front of us,” Councilor Gary Friedmann said. “I’m feeling in a much better mood than I was before.”
Councilors incorporated all three recommendations from the Warrant Committee unanimously on Tuesday. The revised budget, if passed, will result in a 6.5 percent increase in the property tax rate over last year.
The draft budget released to the Warrant Committee by councilors on Jan. 31 showed a 4.5 percent increase, but it included a $5.1 million bond for renovations to Conners Emerson School.
School officials asked the bond be removed from the warrant while they reviewed other options, such as building an addition or a brand new school building. That bond was removed from the Capital Improvement Program fund in this budget and replaced by their updated $350,000 request to make small, necessary repairs.
The bond, if accepted by voters, would not have had any debt service due in fiscal year 2019, so it would not have affected property taxes. The smaller repairs will affect taxes next year and are largely responsible for the bump in the tax rate.
Councilors also increased two items, adding up to $29,049, in the general fund.
The Warrant Committee also proposed a $28,000 increase for road salt, recommended by Public Works Director Chip Reeves. Reeves calculated the budget line for salt using 5-year averages of salt used. This year, a late influx of snow required an adjustment to the average.
“The five year average before this year was $109,000,” he said. “With this year’s experience, adding the extra salt, it brought the five-year average to the $28,000 additional cost.”
The other change saw a $1,049 increase for cooperating agencies to maintain the funding the agencies received last year. Councilors did not believe the item was substantial enough to hold up budget proceedings.
The tax increase will total $17.78 per month on a median-valued home assessed at $300,300.
The Warrant Committee presented several other recommendations for future consideration.
The committee recommended that docking fees for ships tying to town piers be increased 1.7 percent from $1,000 to $1,017. This increase is in line with a 1.7 percent cost of living increase councilors made this year to cruise ship passenger fees. Further, the committee asked for a future $1 bump in cruise ship passenger fees.
The committee urged the council to gather and publish information about fees charged to cruise ships in other destination towns. Warrant Committee Secretary Seth Libby said that information could shed light on revenue left on the table for the town.
“If there is revenue the municipality can be making at minimal expenditure, I think that should be understood and shared,” he said. “The rate analysis would be a step in that direction.”
Friedmann wanted to instruct the Cruise Ship Committee to gather that information, but the motion failed for lack of a second.
All of the Warrant Committee’s recommendations were suggested for a future council agenda by Councilor Erin Cough.
The Warrant Committee asked for language to be included on the ferry terminal purchase bond that clarifies how the debt service could be paid off. It has been proposed that grants and philanthropic funding could be used separately from taxpayer money.
“It’s just an effort to make the voters feel that there were other possibilities down the road if it passes, for helping to pay for it,” committee Chair John Dargis said.
Town Manager Cornell Knight said the town plans to explore all funding sources for the project, but it could still fall solely on taxpayers.
“We plan to utilize every resource we can to fund the project,” he said. “But we also want to make it clear that if those things don’t pan out, that it is on the taxpayers with a general obligation bond.”