Councilors cut, then approve Freeport budget

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FREEPORT — After a bit of paring and whittling, councilors approved a nearly  $8.7 million town budget and set the municipal spending course for next fiscal year.

The budget will increase from about $8.5 million, with about $119,000 of the increase requiring property tax revenues. Property owners will pay nearly $4.8 million to fund municipal spending, an increase from the current $4.7 million.

Town Finance Director Abbe Yacoben estimated the property tax increase would add 9 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, from $3.98 to $4.07, to the proposed total tax rate of between $15.45 and $15.50.

The final tax rate has not been determined because of the ongoing Regional School Unit 5 budget process and town property valuations.

Before the council vote on May 17, about $19,000 requiring property tax revenues was reduced from the budget, including about $14,000 that would have paid for a part-time assistant for the new town manager this fall. Town Manager Dale Olmstead Jr. is expected to retire in October.

Councilors also reduced funding to pay for heating and cooling Freeport Community Library by $4,000 to $11,000, anticipating savings from the conversion to natural gas.

New municipal spending includes $50,000 to maintain and insure the new depot for Amtrak Downeaster service beginning in the fall. Construction costs for the depot are included in the $1.9 million capital improvements budget to be approved by councilors next month.

While cutting those line items, councilors also approved a $5,000 contribution to operations at PORT Teen Center, and spending $1,800 for streaming broadcasts of municipal meetings.

Councilors also approved eliminating a $12,000 reserve fund used to pay increased fuel costs, but added $5,000 to the $25,000 originally allocated for the town contingency fund.

The assessment for the town share of Cumberland County operations was reduced from the current $846,000 to $831,000 for next year. Revenues from vehicle excise taxes are anticipated to remain at $1.2 million and the municipal budget is funded with $500,000 in surplus funds.

A community meeting to vote on specific portions of the $24.9 million fiscal 2013 RSU 5 budget will be held Wednesday. The final budget faces a June 12 referendum vote, where residents of Freeport, Durham and Pownal can vote yes or no on the entire budget.

The school budget released before this week’s community meeting required $13.6 million in Freeport property tax revenues.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.