Cumberland officials blame SAD 51 for 5.6% tax hike

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CUMBERLAND — The Town Council on Monday unanimously approved a $10.3 million municipal budget for next year, which is up 4.7 percent from current spending.

With school and county assessments factored in, the town’s tax rate would increase $1.05 per $1,000 of property valuation – a 5.59 percent hike that would add more than $367 to the tax bill for a home worth $350,000.

Responding to concerns from residents, town officials stressed the majority of the tax impact comes from the School Administrative District 51 assessment to the town, and urged residents to make their case to the district’s Board of Directors.

The tax rate is currently $18.80, so a $350,000 homeowner paid $6,580 in fiscal  year 2018.

The approximately $461,000 increase in municipal expenditures is offset by a nearly $243,000 bump in revenues, up 5.8 percent.

About $330,000 in additional personnel costs makes up most of the spending increase, which includes $81,000 extra in cost-of-living adjustments for union and non-union employees alike. Also included is a $41,000 increase due to a minimum wage hike from $10 to $11 due for January 2019. Those increases will impact recreation department and Val Halla Golf & Recreation Center employees in the summer and after-school programs.

Dan Small’s part-time position as fire chief is due in January 2019 to increase to full time, and an office manager is to be hired at the expanded Central Fire Station, making up much of a $103,000 increase. A schedule reconfiguration in that department results in a $64,000 decrease.

A new part-time position in the town clerk’s office adds $27,000, offset by a $22,000 reduction, thanks to a position in the finance office being reduced from full to part time. Staffing changes and a market adjustment would add $50,000 to spending at Prince Memorial Library.

The staffing changes overall result in a net increase of $94,000.

Cumberland’s total $27 million tax bill includes $7.2 million in municipal funds, adding 3 cents to the tax rate. The town’s assessment from School Administrative District 51 could be $18.9 million, adding 98 cents, and the Cumberland County levy of about $879,000 adds 4 cents.

The $27 million in taxes, divided by Cumberland’s total land value of $1.4 billion, results in a tax rate of $19.85 per $1,000 of property valuation in fiscal year 2019, up $1.05 from the current year.

The town controls only about 30 percent of its gross budget, according to Town Manager Bill Shane.

Watching Shane’s budget presentation, “it’s pretty evident to me where we need to cut our budget,” said Peter Valente of Woody Creek Lane, noting his household pays $12,000 a year in taxes. “As much as I love Cumberland, it gets to be a point where you wonder, is it worth it?”

Councilor Ron Copp said while the municipal side of the budget has been handled responsibly in his 12 years on the panel, “I can’t say that about the school system.”

Saying he pays more than $5,000 a month in taxes for his seven properties in Cumberland, five of which are commercial, Copp explained, “nobody feels this any more than I do in this room. It’s time the people in this town went to a school meeting and spoke their piece of mind.”

Councilor Peter Bingham pointed out that at the SAD 51 district budget meeting in May, where the spending plan goes to the first of two votes by residents of Cumberland and North Yarmouth, “if you have 100 people that show up … there’s a lot.”

“Everybody bitches about it,” he added. “But nobody takes the time to get off their rear end and go and have a dialogue with the School Board.”

SAD 51’s proposed $37.6 million budget for next year represents a $1.7 million increase in spending. Offsetting this is a projected $11.3 million in revenue, down 5.6 percent ($668,000) from the current year. The decline is due largely to a $442,000 loss in state subsidy ($11.3 million down to $10.9 million), which in the last three years has declined by more than $1 million, according to Superintendent Jeff Porter.

Salaries and benefits, slated to rise 3.6 percent, encompass $1.3 million of the spending plan’s total $1.7 million increase. The district is budgeting for a 9 percent insurance rate increase.

SAD 51 will hold a budget public hearing at the Greely High library at 7 p.m. Monday, April 23. The board is to adopt the budget May 7, after which Cumberland-North Yarmouth voters will tackle it twice: at the May 17 district budget meeting, and a budget validation referendum June 12.

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

Cumberland Town Manager Bill Shane discusses the town’s FY 2019 budget during a public hearing at Town Hall Monday.

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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.