Cumberland town budget could add 0.5% to tax bill

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CUMBERLAND — Next year’s municipal budget, as presented by Town Manager Bill Shane to the Finance Committee Feb. 12, could increase taxes by about one-half of 1 percent.

But the 0.54 percent projection does not take into account Cumberland’s assessment to School Administrative District 51, which in fiscal 2018 made up 69 percent of taxpayer bills; SAD 51 has yet to roll out its fiscal 2019 budget proposal.

Nor does the figure include an assessment to Cumberland County, which is 3 percent of this year’s bill.

Town spending is projected to increase 3.69 percent (about $378,000), to reach $10.3 million.

Wages and salaries – the largest spending category, comprising about 40 percent of the total municipal budget – are due to increase 6.13 percent, raising that total spending line to $4.1 million.

Dan Small’s part-time position as fire chief is due in January 2019 to increase to full time, adding about $20,000.

An office manager is to be hired at the Central Fire Station, the expansion of which is due to be completed this spring. The approximately $40,000 addition will enable first responders, currently undertaking administrative tasks, to focus on emergencies, Finance Director Heather Perreault said in an interview Feb. 14.

A full-time finance position is to be reduced to part time, while a part-time position in the town clerk’s office is due to be added, resulting in a zero net budget change.

A 2 percent cost of living increase is also factored into next year’s spending plan, as is a minimum wage hike from $10 to $11 due for January 2019, impacting recreation department and Val Halla Golf & Recreation Center employees in the summer and after-school programs. These two increases add roughly $40,000 and $45,000 to the budget, respectively.

The contracted services budget is due to increase 2.42 percent, to reach $919,000, thanks in part to a 2.5 percent rise in the town’s contract with Waste Management.

Cumberland’s current tax rate is $18.60 per $100,000 of property valuation, to which the municipal budget alone could add 10 cents.

“We really tried to keep the overall increases pretty low,” Perreault said, noting that a five-year forecast was developed at the end of last year’s budget cycle, “to try to figure out how we can keep the general fund effect on the tax rate minimal, since we knew the school had a bunch of big projects coming up.”

Debt for SAD 51’s $9.5 million Greely Center for the Arts, now under construction, is being tiered over three years to minimize the expense as existing debt is retired. Interest-only payments are to come in 2019 and 2020, followed by peak interest and principal payments the next year.

The impact of the increase on the tax bill for a $300,000 home has been projected to be $9 in Cumberland and $12 in North Yarmouth in 2019 and 2020, and then $69 in Cumberland and $84 in North Yarmouth in 2021.

Calling a 10-cent tax increase in town spending “very responsible,” Shane wrote in his budget memo to the Town Council, “I am fearful the MSAD budget will have a significant increase. A $400,000 loss in (state subsidy) revenues this year and even a modest increase in spending, will result in a significant increase in our assessment.”

Budgeted town revenues are due to increase 5.07 percent, from $4.8 million to $5 million next year, helping significantly to offset municipal expenses. The town budgeted in fiscal year 2018 for less excise tax revenue than it actually received, hence a planned increase next year, from $1.65 million to $1.9 million.

“We recognized the amount that the excise tax has been increasing,” Perreault said, crediting the increase to people turning their cars over more frequently, “which is what they do when the economy is good.”

The Town Council is due April 9 to vote on the municipal budget.

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

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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.