Bath budget draws little comment, heads to June 6 council vote

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BATH — The city’s proposed fiscal year 2019 municipal budget, which goes to a City Council vote June 6, drew just one public comment during the panel’s four-minute hearing on May 16.

The council afterward granted first passage to three bonding ordinances, which will have final votes June 6.

Next year’s city budget could decline by less than 1 percent, while overall taxes – including school and county assessments – could increase nearly 2.5 percent.

Joseph Phillips of North Street, the one resident to speak, thanked city officials for paving his street from High to Washington, as planned in the budget.

City Manager Peter Owen lauded the city’s council and department heads for their work in developing “a responsible and lean budget. We are benefiting basically from strong fiscal practices from the past, and it’s my intention to continue those fiscal practices to bring the best, responsible budget for the Bath citizens going forward.”

The $15.9 million city budget is down about $133,000, thanks largely to no principal payment being made yet on a 2015 wastewater infrastructure improvement bond. About $120,000 in interest is to be paid, with the first principal-plus-interest payment of about $400,000 to be made in fiscal year 2020, according to Finance Director Juli Millett.

The $10.85 million general fund portion of the city budget is due to rise 1.53 percent, the result of small increases in salaries and benefits, which are offset by heat and insurance savings. The capital fund budget, about $873,000, is down 1.35 percent, while the $1.7 million landfill fund budget is down 4.58 percent, due to debt retirement.

The $2 million sewer budget is dropping 7.7 percent, due to the bond payment being delayed, Millett said.

Because the total budget decrease is in landfill and sewer funding, and fees primarily fund those expenses, overall city taxes are due to rise 0.75 percent, to reach nearly $9 million. Non-tax revenues are about flat.

Factoring in Regional School Unit 1’s assessment to Bath ($10.4 million, up 1.79 percent), and the Sagadahoc County assessment ($1.7 million, down 0.07 percent), Bath’s total property taxes are expected to reach $21.1 million – a 2.48 percent increase.

The result would be a tax increase of approximately $110 for a home valued at $200,000, according to Millett.

The city comprises 42.5 percent of Bath’s total tax allocation, while RSU 1 makes up 49.3 percent, and Sagadahoc County is 8.2 percent.

Bond ordinances

The first ordinance authorizes bonding $1 million to fund wastewater infrastructure improvements. The borrowing supplements a $9.8 million wastewater improvement bond approved by city voters in 2015. The cost of the projects “has increased and now exceeds the costs anticipated” when the original bonding was approved, according to the council order regarding the new borrowing.

The city will borrow the funds through the state’s revolving loan fund, “but they have granted us principal forgiveness on this $1 million, so we will not pay it back,” Millett told the council.

The City Council unanimously approved second passage for that borrowing, along with $283,000 for city vehicles and equipment, and a supplemental appropriation of $165,000.

The $283,000 bond funds financing toward a used animal control van, another police vehicle, an extractor washer/dryer for the fire-rescue department, a 1-ton forestry truck, and a public works loader replacement.

The supplemental amount is not within the fiscal 2019 budget, but it moves Bath’s expenditure limit forward, granting the city leeway if more room is needed next year, Millett said. The practice dates back to the 1980s.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.