Assessing, budget on Falmouth council agenda

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FALMOUTH — The Town Council has a full evening planned for Thursday, April 10. 

First, in an executive session at 5:30 p.m. at Town Hall, councilors will re-open discussion on their March 24 decision to outsource town assessing services to Cumberland County.

Then, the council will discuss the proposed budget for fiscal 2015 in a separate meeting beginning at at 7 p.m. in the Falmouth Elementary School cafeteria.

The 7 p.m. presentation will provide an overview of proposed budgets for the town and the School Department. Immediately afterward, the council will seek feedback and questions from residents during a public hearing on the proposals.

If passed as written, the budgets will have a nominal effect on the town’s current property tax rate: a reduction of 1.3 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

The proposed general operating budget for fiscal 2015 is for $11.4 million, a 3 percent increase from the current budget of $11.1 million.

Under the proposal, the town’s expenses will increase by $333,000, which is offset by gains in revenue, most notably from automobile excise taxes after a year of strong sales, according to Town Manager Nathan Poore.

The bulk of the increased expenses are attributed to wages and benefits for town employees.

The proposed school budget calls for $31.7 million in spending, a 4.76 percent increase from the current budget of $30.2 million.

The spending increase of $1.4 million is offset by gains in state aid, student tuition, use of undesignated funds and property taxes from new homes.

The increased spending is due to increases in debt service on a $5 million bond for improvements to the middle school, plus wages and benefits for employees, according to Superintendent Barbara Powers.

Re-assessing assessing

Earlier on Thursday, the council will meet privately to discuss its recent decision to outsource assessing services to Cumberland County.

The council approved outsourcing, 5-2, on March 24 after a lengthy discussion, during which Councilor Russ Anderson claimed that the Town Charter does not allow the council to dismantle the assessing department, among others – an opinion Anderson later reiterated in a letter published by The Forecaster.

Town attorney William Plouffe has advised the council its decision is allowed under the charter – an opinion that was backed by a majority of councilors, because, in essence, the charter gives the town manager the authority to hire and fire the town’s assessor.

Anderson requested Thursday’s meeting on the grounds that the council’s action leaves the town vulnerable to lawsuits.

Brenda Keilty, the state’s public access ombudsman, said last week that the decision to meet behind closed doors is appropriate because the council intends to discuss its “legal rights and responsibilities,” i.e., the Town Charter, with its attorney, as allowed by state law.

Ben McCanna can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow him on Twitter: @BenMcCanna.