Tax increase, cruise ship ban go to voters

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Voters at the annual town meeting in a week and a half will consider a $3.76 million municipal budget and another $3.69 million for Pemetic Elementary School for the period of July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019.

The town meeting is set for Monday, May 7, at 7 p.m. in the Pemetic School auditorium.

Town elections will be held the following day, May 8, at the fire station meeting room. Polls will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Property taxes might go up for the first time in six years, said Town Manager Don Lagrange, but he is not sure yet by how much. He said he hopes to have a final number by July 1.

In total, the proposed municipal budget is up by $513,885, or 9.4 percent. The most significant increases in are in administration, police and dispatch.

Town officials are proposing an increase of $99,186, approximately 32 percent, for administration costs. The $409,833 total includes the hiring of a new town manager, while Lagrange is set to stay on as part-time code enforcement officer.

Debt service is almost double what was budgeted for 2017-2018, increasing from $405,736 to $729,110. The town will pay $207,560 in bonds for the water-sewer district, but the payments will be offset by revenues from that district, according to Lagrange.

The remaining $521,550 will be appropriated through taxation, including $120,000 for the $2.3 million townwide infrastructure plan that is set to begin this year.

The $524,431 budget for the Police Department reflects a $38,617, or 7.9 percent, increase from last year. Of the additional cost, $16,338 would go toward a pension program for public safety personnel.

The $286,927 for dispatch is up by $15,670, also primarily due to pension plans and increases in salaries, Lagrange said.

The $210,812 proposed for the capital improvement plan is down by $110,488, or 34.3 percent, from last year.

Voters also will consider requests of $55,000 for the Southwest Harbor Public Library and $59,640 for Harbor House youth center and recreation programs, which have remained unchanged from last year.

This year’s budget includes a total appropriation of $209,100 into 12 reserve accounts. Of that, $55,000 will go toward legal and accounting; $29,500 will go toward Rhoades Park, up by $24,000 from last year; $24,000 will go toward HRA insurance, up by $14,000; $26,000 for salt and sand; $15,000 for tax abatement; and $27,000 for the Historic Cemetery reserve, up by $25,000 from last year primarily due to the cost of removing trees within the cemetery.

A new reserve account was created for the installation of crossing lights for the school and their maintenance, for which $18,000 is appropriated this year.

The $3.69 million Pemetic Elementary budget is up by $125,159 this year, a 3.5 percent increase. As of early April, 135 students were enrolled at the school.

The proposed $831,639 for special education reflects a $73,054 decrease from last year. The school no longer needs an interpreter/teacher of the deaf, which slashed around $54,000.

The most significant increase across all articles of the school budget was an anticipated 10 percent increase in health insurance, but earlier this month, district officials learned that there wouldn’t be any increase for the Mount Desert Island Regional School System schools.

Superintendent Marc Gousse and MDIRSS Business Manager Nancy Thurlow recommended that schools reduce the amount budgeted for health insurance costs by 70 percent. The remaining 30 percent will go toward potential plan changes and to accommodate the results of the current contract negotiations between school board and teachers union representatives.

The town budget includes the town’s share of the appropriations for the Hancock County budget and the Mount Desert Island High School budget. The county appropriation is about $275,300, an increase of $3,893. The high school appropriation of $1.14 million is up by $3,241 from what was budgeted last year.

On May 8, voters will cast secret ballots to decide whether to enact five new harbor ordinances, including a cruise ship ban (see related story, Section 2, Page 7) and an amendment to the definition of “structure” in the land use ordinance.

Henriette Chacar

Henriette Chacar

Former Islander reporter Henriette Chacar covered the towns of Southwest Harbor and Tremont.
Henriette Chacar

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