2012-03-30 / Front Page

Town budget a tight squeeze

Municipal figure shows 1.6 percent increase
By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

When Town Manager Tom Hall began putting the fiscal 2013 budget together, he knew it was going to be a daunting task.

With the loss of revenue and nonnegotiable expenditures, such as employee wages and benefits and the cost of heating and diesel fuel going up, Hall knew the budget would be a tight one, like in years past.

To help keep expenditures in line, Hall said many town departments level funded their budget requests. In fact, some, he said, came in asking for less money.

Hall said his goal was to create a realistic budget by flat-funding appropriations; limiting the tax rate increase to no more than 3.6 percent, or the consumer price index; maintaining essential services; avoiding layoffs if possible; and maintaining infrastructure.

In the end he came up with a municipal budget of just over $23 million, a budget that is $383,000, or 1.6 percent, more than the current $22.6 million that was approved last year.

“This budget is not a surprise in terms of challenges,” Hall said. “It’s been one of our most challenging budgets.”

One of the issues he had to confront while developing the budget was a loss of revenue sources for the town. Since fiscal year 2009, the town has seen the loss of $1.85 million, including $1.13 million in federal jobs money, $400,000 from the town’s fund balance and $65,000 in excise tax.

“Since FY 2009, it has been the revenue side of things that has been a challenge for us,” Hall said. “This year is no different.”

Some of the revenue sources the town relied on before, such as federal stimulus money, are no longer available to local towns.

“The day of reckoning has come, these sources are no longer available. That is not a surprise to staff and I’d guess it doesn’t come as a surprise to you,” Hall told the councilors.

The loss of revenue streams mean that funding for even more of the budget has to come from taxpayers.

In total, the proposed 2013 budget would increase 5.86 percent from $60.2 million to $64.2 million. This would mean $432 more in taxes for the taxpayer who owns a home worth $300,000, the average value of a house in Scarborough.

The increase in municipal spending stems in part from the town taking responsibility for $176,600 in salary and benefits for four fire department personnel that was previously paid through Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant. Also affecting the increase is a two percent cost of living increase for non-union employees and fuel and vehicle maintenance costs.

Hall has included $1.36 million in capital improvement equipment in the budget. These include $900,000 to replace a 25- year-old fire department ladder truck that is showing signs of deterioration; $168,000 to replace a rescue unit; $120,000 for a van for Community Services programs; $20,000 to replace an unmarked police cruiser; $40,000 for cruiser equipment and $41,500 for capital improvements at Scarborough Public Library.

Of the projected capital improvement equipment purchases, only $120,000 would be funded through municipal bonds. The fire department ladder truck purchase will go before town voters in June.

Understanding the new fire truck is a huge cost in a tough budget year, Fire Chief B. Michael Thurlow said that he asked Public Works to examine the truck to see if replacement of the truck could be delayed another year. He said it was determined that due to corrosion and the age of the vehicle, it could not go another year.

Town Councilor and Finance Committee Member Ron Ahlquist said this week that he agrees that replacing the truck is in the town’s best interest.

“The replacement schedule, I think, is one of the things we have done well,” he said. “If we start to waiver from that, we’ll get into trouble quickly.”

Hall has also recommended $1.64 million in capital improvement projects: $165,500 to replace the boiler at town hall; $288,000 from the Higgins Beach Reserve Account for the development and construction of the Higgins Beach bathhouse; $400,000 for the Dunstan Corner Intersection Improvement Plan and $483,000 for annual road rehabilitation work. Approximately $878,500 would be bonded, the rest would be funded through capital improvement fund reallocation, impact fees, or from reserve accounts.

The Town Council will have its first reading of the budget on April 4. A public hearing will be held the following Wednesday, on April 11. A special workshop going over the Finance Committee’s final budget recommendations following its meetings with department heads, will take place on April 25.

A final decision on the budget will take place at the Town Council’s May 2 meeting.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at 282-4337, ext. 237.

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