Bath municipal taxes could rise nearly 1.7%

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Ban on ‘smart’ meters passes 1st hurdle

BATH — City taxes could increase 1.69 percent next year under a preliminary spending plan City Manager Bill Giroux presented to the City Council Wednesday night.

With school and county expenses added into the mix, Bath’s total tax property tax bite could rise 3.67 percent in fiscal 2012, Giroux said.

The council Wednesday also gave initial approval to a moratorium that would prohibit the installation of wireless “smart” electric meters in the city for 180 days.

The municipal budget would decrease by nearly $323,000, from $13.7 million this fiscal year to $13.4 million next year. The drop in city expenditures is due primarily to budget reductions in the capital and sewer funds, Giroux wrote in a budget message. He said operating costs have increased and revenues have decreased, causing the increase in municipal taxes.

Municipal taxes would increase about $268,000, to $6.8 million next year.

Giroux said revenues declines are expected in in ambulance billing ($50,000), operating interest and penalty income ($75,000), and other areas. Projected increases in expenses include more than $105,000 for insurance, $40,000 for operating expenses at the armory, a $20,000 increase in fire protection from the Bath Water District, a more than $245,000 hike in property tax-funded capital expenses, fuel and heating costs, and $35,000 in increased cemetery costs for stone repairs.

Offsetting the budget shortfall are a decrease in debt payments, concessions by employees on health insurance, postponed contracted salary raises for six months, and cost controls by department managers, Giroux said.

The City Council will vote on the budget next month. In the meantime, a public hearing will be held at City Hall at 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 18.

Smart meters, signs

The 5-3 vote on “smart” meters, which requires another vote before taking effect, followed unanimous approval last month of a resolution urging Central Maine Power Co. to refrain from installing the devices in the city for up to 180 days.

Several CMP customers are challenging the company’s ongoing meter conversions in complaints filed with the Maine Public Utilities Commission. They claim the devices are unsafe and customers should be allowed to opt out of the program. CMP has denied the claims and asked the PUC to restrict the opt-out options.

Councilor David Sinclair said he was pleased with last month’s vote, but he noted that the resolution is not enforceable and that the ordinance would “help give teeth to the resolution we’ve already passed.”

Sinclair and Councilors Steve Brackett, James Omo, Kyle Rogers, Ruthe Pagurko supported the ordinance, while Mari Eosco, Sean Paulhus and Andrew Winglass were opposed.

The council gave unanimous preliminary approval to an ordinance permitting signs that indicate the direction to goods and services downtown. They will be allowed at the corners of Centre and Front streets, Front and Elm streets, Vine and Water streets and Elm and Water streets.

Councilors also voted 6-2 for first passage of an ordinance that includes political signs in the definition of temporary signs. The signs would have to be no more than 16 square feet, erected no earlier than six weeks before an election, and removed one week afterward.

Brackett, Omo, Paulhus, Eosco, Sinclair and Pagurko favored the measure while Rogers and Winglass were opposed.

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

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.