Cuts to the town budget include capital improvement accounts for schools and ambulances. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Town budget slashed, mill rate to rise 0.8 percent; Warrant Committee concurs



BAR HARBOR — With no cruise ship visits expected at all here this calendar year, and awareness that many residents and businesses will struggle to be able to pay taxes, officials have made cuts to the proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. 

“I thought it important to not have a tax increase this year,” Town Manager Cornell Knight told the Town Council June 3, “so that’s what this budget reflects.” 

At that meeting, the council made additional cuts totaling a bit over $120,000 in spending. The final proposal calls for a 1.4 percent drop in the municipal portion of the property tax assessment. Because school and county assessments are still going up, the mill rate is set to rise 0.8 percent, to 11.95. For a home assessed at $286,700, the town’s median, that means a $29 increase in taxes over the current year. 

On Monday, the town’s Warrant Committee voted to recommend approval of the town and school budgets, so a joint meeting with the Town Council planned for Wednesday to discuss any differences in the two groups’ proposals was not needed. The budget goes to voters at Town Meeting June 30; the plan is for that meeting to be held in the high school gym, but the location may need to change. 

The original proposed budget, unveiled in January, called for a 1.5 percent increase in the mill rate. To achieve the reduction in the new plan, Knight cut the town’s $40,902 subsidy for the Island Explorer bus system, which won’t run this year, and eliminated a planned new police supervisor position to work on parking and cruise ship-related traffic flows. In the capital improvement program, funding for a road grader, street sweeper, Eden Street path lighting and bikeway improvements were cut. 

The changes also reflect higher expenses in some areas and lower non-property-tax revenues, including ambulance billing and vehicle excise taxes. 

Revenues to the parking and cruise ship funds do not directly impact taxes, but they are expected to be down $182,000 and $959,568 respectively, compared with the previous draft budgets. 

Cruise lines including Royal Caribbean have announced the suspension of the Canada-New England itineraries that include Bar Harbor through Oct. 31, due to a Canadian government ban. 

The cruise ship season spans two fiscal years; this budget is for fiscal year 2021, which begins July 1 and runs through June 30, 2021, so it anticipates some cruise ship visitation in 2021. 

The revised budget for Conners Emerson School also will be slimmer than the original version. Instead of a 3.05 increase in property tax funding, it will require an increase of 1.56 percent. 

The school committee voted to eliminate a behavioral specialist position. Patty Galeaz, who has held that recentlycreated position, will return to teaching second grade next year. The school will benefit from lower heating oil prices and a lower-than-expected increase in health insurance costs. 

At the council’s budget meeting last week, councilors discussed cutting the town’s contribution to the Jesup library and the YMCA, but voted against the idea. The YMCA will be providing essential childcare for many families this summerConners Emerson Principal Barb Neilly said; its summer camp programs are going ahead while others have canceled. 

“I’m not yet willing to go in there slashing our core institutions,” Councilor Gary Friedmann said. 

They did remove the town’s contribution to the Chamber of Commerce Fourth of July celebration ($15,300) and cut the Town Band spending in half ($5,828). 

The council also asked Knight to cut an additional $100,000 in spending; $60,000 of that will come from a Conners Emerson capital improvement account used for both future building plans and school repairs, and the other $40,000 is from capital improvement accounts for a new ambulance, defibrillators, and phone and software systems. 

 

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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