TREMONT — The Board of Selectmen here is still considering the 2018-2019 budget, but the final property tax rate is expected to increase by 8.4 percent, according to a March 5 budget message from Town Manager Christopher Saunders.
He recommended that selectmen maintain a balanced budget and suggested keeping the municipal budget as close as possible to a 2 percent increase, to mirror an equal rise in the Consumer Price Index and the cost of living adjustment for residents on Social Security.
But that 2 percent tax increase to fund the municipal budget is combined with a 6.5 percent increase in MDI High School’s assessment and a 1.1 percent drop in Hancock County taxes.
Saunders also predicted a 12.9 percent increase in the Tremont Consolidated School’s appropriation, although the Board of Selectmen hasn’t discussed the final school budget yet.
Revenue from auto excise tax is expected to increase by $10,985 over last year, but Saunders anticipates an overall decrease in non-property tax revenues. This is as a result of significant drops in the federal payment in lieu of taxes, which are funds allocated by Congress as a reimbursement for property tax the town can’t collect on lands that make up Acadia National Park; and the municipal revenue sharing reserve, money the town receives from the state.
The municipal revenue sharing reserve was previously set to a minimum of $100,000. Saunders, however, recommended lowering the threshold to $90,000 to reflect the reserve’s decrease in revenues, and then transferring no more than $16,547 to the budget.
The essential expected expenditures for next year include employee costs, utilities, public works maintenance and solid waste. One major expense is a $13,000 repair of the town office water system. According to Saunders, if the corrosion of the pipes is left unattended, a plumbing failure could cause significant and costly damage.
Saunders created a list of optional expenses for selectmen to review, but many of them are “vitally important for next year’s budget,” he wrote in his message.
One optional expense is a $60,262 first-year payment on a new fire engine. Saunders proposed using $40,000 from the law enforcement reserve account to cover some of the cost.
This reserve account is believed to have been established when the town received a federal grant to cover the full cost of employing a police officer for one year. The funds have been untouched since at least 2001, except for action at the 2016 town meeting which authorized the transfer of the accumulated interest in this account to a new fire equipment reserve.
Another budgeted optional expense is an $85,000 backhoe purchase using funds from the town equipment reserve. The truck, bought in 2006, is mostly used to transfer sand and salt onto trucks for road maintenance in the winter. Saunders said the maintenance costs on it are getting too high and the cost of renting a backhoe if the current one breaks down are more expensive in the long run than buying a new truck.
In the five-year road improvement program, the town planned to reconstruct 1,700 feet of Dodge Point Road at $247,700 in fiscal year 2019. After consulting with the engineering firm, Saunders recommended reducing that amount to $154,500, paving approximately 1,000 feet of the road and leaving the remainder as gravel.
Selectmen also will deliberate on additional possible expenses which were not included in the town manager’s March 5 budget proposal. For example, no transfers were appropriated for the solar array reserve to start saving for the solar array purchase, or the fire truck reserve to save for fire truck replacements.
The town manager also had difficulty finding available funds to double the code enforcement officer’s hours, which would cost $16,390 more than last year.
Not budgeted as well is a possible wage increase for a third year-round public works employee, which has so far been a contracted, seasonal position.