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Freeport town manager offers recommendations to fill $366K budget gap

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Freeport town manager offers recommendations to fill $366K budget gap

FREEPORT — Residents may be focused on a proposal to consolidate dispatch services as a way to save money, but Town Manager Dale Olmstead has provided other options to fill a $366,000 gap in the operating budget for fiscal year 2011.

In a document posted on the town Web site, Olmstead lists more than 20 ways to help reduce the operating budget. He said it is to be used as a road map to a 0 percent tax increase.

"The first thing I need to know is if there is going to be a tax increase in Freeport," he said. "Any willingness at all from the council to allow an increase could lessen the operating budget gap, eliminating a few ideas on the table."

Some of the suggestions include dispatch consolidation to save $100,000, and staff reductions of nearly $115,000. A reduced employee health plan could save the town $45,000, early retirement options could save $10,000, and transfers from the Tax Stabilization Fund, Cable Reserve and Non-Emergency Transport funds could save $65,000, $10,000 and $20,000, respectively.

If these budget reductions are not made, Olmstead said, the municipal tax rate will increase 7.2 percent, from $3.11 per $1,000 of valuation to $3.34.

Olmstead created a second tier of suggestions as a supplement if the council does not approve the first set.

These items include the elimination of the town report, courtesy mailings, clean-up week, reimbursements to veteran groups for Memorial Day Activities and funding for the Freeport Merchant Association restroom fund.

Employees would be paid every two weeks instead of once a week, direct deposit would be required, technology support would decrease and residents would receive a single tax bill instead of two per year.

In addition, social service organizations would suffer a funding reduction of 5 percent across the board.

Olmstead said he was not pleased with many of the choice, but he "had to list a series of reductions that would create the least amount of damage."

In addition, Olmstead encouraged councilors to make their own recommendations. But only Councilor Joe Migliaccio offered any ideas.

He suggested a $12,500 cut in funding to the Freeport Economic Development Corp. budget. He said the town currently staffs FEDC employees and office space and provides funding of $85,000 annually.

Migliaccio said he would like to continue to provide $12,500 in annual funding for the Freeport Merchants Association.

"I think FEDC is a nice organization, but you can't have it both ways," he said. "They are either a department of the town subject to the cuts town staff face, or they are a private corporation that receives funding from the council. As of now, it is a hybrid."

Myra Hopkins, executive director of FMA, told councilors at a Feb. 23 public hearing that FMA uses the $12,500 to maintain the public restrooms, and to help market the community.

"The money we receive from the town allows us an opportunity to market Freeport as a brand to be reckoned with," she said.

Councilors gave Olmstead no direction on where to make cuts. More discussion is expected on March 9.

Olmstead, meanwhile, urged residents to contact state Rep. David Webster, D-Freeport, and Sen. Stan Gerzofksy, D-Brunswick, and tell them to handle budget problems at the state level.

"Most of this gap comes from cuts in state revenue sharing," the town manager said. "The state has budget issues to deal with and they should deal with them at the state level, not pass the reductions on to municipalities."

To view the operating budget reduction suggestions, visit freeportmaine.com

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net