Bath council OKs $14.8M city budget, extends 'smart' meter moratorium

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BATH — The City Council unanimously approved next year’s $14.8 million city budget Wednesday evening.

The panel also voted 5-4 to again extend a moratorium on the mass installation of wireless “smart” electric meters.

The fiscal 2013 spending plan is an increase of more than $692,000 over the current year. The budget includes $9.3 million in the general fund, about $808,000 in the capital fund, $1.8 million in the landfill fund, and $2.1 million in the sewer fund.

Also included is about $113,000 for the Bath City Bus, nearly $80,000 for the train station and trolley, about $537,000 for the Midcoast Center for Higher Education and $50,000 for overlay.

Municipal taxes would increase about 2 percent, or nearly $342,000, to $7.1 million. Including increases to the tax rate from school and county costs – 2.7 percent and 0.5 percent, respectively – the city could see a total tax hike of nearly 5.3 percent.

The council also unanimously amended the proposed budget to restore funding for a third ambulance, which it had planned to sell. Members of Bath Firefighters Local 1611 defended the need for a third ambulance during a public budget hearing last month.

“Several times a month we are dispatched to a third ambulance call,” they pointed out in a letter to the council. “On some occasions, the first rescue will respond directly from the hospital to a fourth call while the second and third trucks are busy with their patients. Without the capability of a third ambulance, a person suffering from a heart attack could be waiting for an ambulance to come from another town. This will drastically increase the response time.”

Councilor Kyle Rogers made the motion to add the vehicle back into the budget.

Restoring the ambulance added $18,500 to the spending plan. That includes $4,500 for maintenance, $3,000 for premium pay, $1,000 for overtime pay and a $10,000 loss in budgeted revenue from the vehicle not being sold.

Having heard concerns from residents of the Pine Hill Condominiums about ongoing flooding issues, most recently from last weekend’s rainfall, the council discussed adding money to the budget to mitigate the issue.

Councilor Sean Paulhus, who represents that area of the city, made the motion to add $24,000 to the budget’s capital plan, which would cover the first year of interest for borrowing for the project, which could cost $860,000. The council voted 7-1, with Paulhus opposed, against adding the funds.

“We as a group hashed it out pretty thoroughly, I thought,” Councilor Steve Brackett said of prior council discussion on the matter.

Bath’s municipal tax increase is due to rising costs of health insurance and fuel, a $45,000 state decrease in municipal revenue sharing, and a 3.4 percent increase in salaries for union and non-union municipal employees that had been deferred last year, according to Finance Director Juli Millett.

Later in the meeting the council voted 5-4 to extend by 180 days a moratorium on the mass installation of “smart” meters. Chairman David Sinclair and Councilors Meadow Rue Merrill, Ruthe Pagurko, Rogers and Brackett voted in favor of the extension, while Councilors Bernard Wyman, Mari Eosco, Andrew Winglass and Paulhus were opposed.

The moratorium requires Central Maine Power Co. to obtain approval from customers before it installs the new meters. CMP has contacted customers to determine whether they want the new meters or would rather pay to opt out of the program.

The City Council previously voted last December, by the same margin, to extend the initial 180-day moratorium. The panel will vote next month on second and final passage of the moratorium ordinance.

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.