Cumberland manager aims to keep tax increase under 2%

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CUMBERLAND — Town Manager Bill Shane said he would like to see a fiscal 2012 budget built on less than a 2 percent increase in taxes.

Shane said he expects to present the budget, which will run from July 1 to June 20, 2012, to the Town Council on Feb. 28.

If the town goes through its normal budget process, the council should vote on next year’s spending plan between March 28 and April 11, Shane said last week. A public hearing on the budget will precede that vote.

In recent years Cumberland’s municipal budget – not including school and county costs – has gradually decreased, from $8.8 million in fiscal 2007 to $7.99 million in the current fiscal 2011. The 2007 independence of Chebeague Island, and the consequential loss of $230 million in taxable value, and the tough economic climate in general since then, have been factors behind the shrinking budget, Shane said.

He said the fiscal 2012 budget should be close to this year’s amount. But he also anticipates an approximately 10 percent increase in utility and fuel costs, and in worker’s compensation, health and general liability  insurance. The police and public works contracts are up this year for renegotiation, too.

Shane said he also expects only about $6 million in new property value to be added to the town’s existing value of about $1.3 billion, and he expects no changes in current revenue collections.

Although the fiscal 2011 budget did not include a tax increase, Shane said, “to get to zero again would require additional layoffs,” noting that in the past five years the town has whittled its work force by 20 percent.

“To do anymore would require an elimination of an entire service,” he said. “… It’s a little difficult to go much further.”

Three years ago the town received $780,000 from state revenue sharing, and this year Shane said eh anticipates $500,000.

“When you lose $280,000 of revenue in a very short period of time, it’s (that) balancing … you’ve got expenses, but you also have revenues which get you to a net of what eventually your tax increase will look like,” Shane said.

The town has also received about $1.3 million in excise tax revenue, an amount Shane said should remain about the same.

Cumberland’s share of the School Administrative District 51 budget is a key factor in how taxpayers will be impacted, Shane noted. The school operating budget has remained flat for three years, despite continued state revenue losses, he said. Contract negotiations with teachers will also have an impact on next year’s budget, Shane explained.

Last August the Town Council set the tax rate for the entire fiscal 2011 budget at $15.30 per $1,000 of property valuation, an increase of 75 cents, or a little more than 5 percent. The municipal and county sides of the rate, about 30 percent, were flat, while the school side made up the other 70 percent.

The town may not know where the fiscal 2012 school numbers fall until at least April.

“At this point, I’m hopeful that we can keep any tax increase to a modest increase,” Shane said. “… And that’s really kind of driven by what type of revenue streams the school is going to receive. If the revenues are decreased even further (to school funding), it’s going to make it more difficult for every local taxpayer, not just here in Cumberland but everywhere in the state.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.

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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.