TREMONT — After realizing their first attempt at reducing the mill rate increase would have little effect on the amount taxpayers would be paying for fiscal year 2022, Tremont’s Board of Selectmen opted to sock away more savings into several reserve accounts.
Monday was the second meeting in which the board reviewed the fiscal 2022 budget proposed by Town Manager Chris Saunders, which has a proposed mill rate increase of 1.3 percent, the same as inflation, he pointed out. Combining the town budget, the Tremont school budget, the town’s commitment to the high school budget and town’s share of the county budget, the original mill rate is set to increase by 4.6 percent to $11.18. Last year’s mill rate was $10.69.
During the meeting, selectmen also approved the school’s proposed budget of $3,338,917, with a town appropriation of $3,004,140, a 6.3 percent increase over last year’s amount.
On Monday, March 8, during his presentation to the board of his initial proposed figures for projected revenue and expenditures, Saunders asked selectmen to think about the unassigned fund balance account. Maine Municipal Association recommends towns have a savings of 10-12 percent of the budget’s total expenditures in that account. According to Saunders, the town’s savings are closer to 14 percent, which essentially allows selectmen to consider using up to $260,000 on items in the budget to get closer to the recommended percentage.
“That’s great, phenomenal, we have money banked away here,” said board chairman Jamie Thurlow.
After taking a week to consider how to use some of that money, selectmen opted to increase the amounts they are putting into specific reserve accounts. They increased the amount going into the solar array reserve account by $10,000, bringing this budget’s total contribution to that account up to $20,000. When the town’s lease on the array expires seven years after it was installed, the town will have to purchase it for $180,000. Selectmen also increased the amount going into the town truck reserve by $20,000, making that total a $65,000 contribution for this budget. Another $20,000 was moved into the town equipment reserve, which brought this budget’s total contribution to $35,000 and another $40,000 went into the road improvement reserve, bringing that total to a $90,000 installation for this budget. They also increased the contribution going into the Seal Cove fishway reserve by $10,000, which makes it a $20,000 installation for this budget.
Despite the overall 1.3 percent increase, the fiscal 2022 budget does have a few additional items with significant price tags. To meet demand, Saunders is proposing the town hire a full-time code enforcement officer to replace the current one, Jesse Dunbar, after he transitions to the role of town manager in June. There is a $60,000 increase in the employee benefits section of the budget to reflect that staffing change.
“I do anticipate that new employee taking on some deputy clerk responsibilities, such as waiting on customers,” Saunders explained to the board. “Our customer flow has really increased over the last couple of years… Having that person there five days a week, I think, would really make a big difference for a lot of people.”
Dunbar currently works two days a week as code enforcement officer and was recently appointed as deputy town manager, a role he fulfills the other three days of the week until Saunders’s tenure ends.
Saunders also added the expense of increasing the hours of law enforcement coverage from 30 per week to 45. Because voters approved a contract for 30 hours of coverage with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office at just over $100,000 last year, the increase in hours and expenses will go before voters this year. If approved, it would add $55,000 to the original amount on the contract.
A $60,000 increase to the town garage buildings in the public works department includes a $30,000 pole barn to replace the tent that now stands next to the public works garage near the town office.
“The fabric is falling apart, we have a temporary repair there, but I don’t think it’s going to last terribly long,” said Saunders. “Also, the frame inside there is really falling apart… It’s about as old as this whole complex so I think having a pole barn would be a great way to have an inexpensive fix.”
Another $40,000 in the budget is slated to be used for paving the north end of the driveway at the town office, as well as in front of the salt and sand shed.
“That’s been on the wish list for a while and I think it finally does fit into the budget,” said Saunders.
Selectmen are meeting for the next three consecutive Mondays to review and, ultimately, approve the budget.