Despite proposed spending cuts, Freeport taxes likely to rise

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FREEPORT — The town’s latest budget proposal shows a $52,000 reduction in spending, but cuts in revenue and state aid will lead to a property tax increase.

Town Manager Peter Joseph and Finance Director Abbe Yacoben last week presented to the Town Council an $8.92 million budget proposal for fiscal year 2015.

The budget shows a municipal tax increase of 2.05 percent, or 7 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The town’s current mil rate is $15.85 per $1,000.

Regional School Unit 5’s $15 million budget proposal, up 5 percent over the current year, would increase the tax rate an additional 53 cents per $1,000.

Factor in another penny for Cumberland County taxes, and Freeport residents could be looking at a property tax increase of 61 cents per $1,000. For the owner of median-priced home valued at $221,500, that would mean a tax increase of roughly $135.

The municipal budget does not include the $2.5 million capital budget, which is funded by the town’s reserve funds and was adopted on April 15.

The town’s cost of doing business is up $99,000, Yacoben said, while revenue sharing, down $35,000 this year, has been cut in half over the past six years.

A reduction of $82,000 in assessments from regional trash company ecomaine helped the town reduce expenditures, despite some new costs. The budget includes, for example, $21,500 for the implementation of the statewide inter-library loan system Minerva at the Freeport Community Library.

A couple of big-ticket items that were left out of the budget proposal remain on the table.

The Fire and Rescue Department has proposed the addition of $155,000 in wages and benefits for two new full-time employees, which would add nearly 12 cents to the tax rate. And the Shellfish Commission has requested $90,000 for the creation of a shellfish coordinator position, which would add almost 7 cents to the tax rate.

“I would consider both of these items optional add-ons,” Joseph said.

The current budget includes $6,500 in revenue for passport processing at the library, but that item has been removed from the 2015 proposal. Library staff have asked the town to cut the service because it eats up too much of their time, sometimes two hours for a single passport. No other town office appears poised to take over.

Joseph acknowledged that some residents would be irked by the potential loss of passport processing in town. The closest processing locations would become post offices in Brunswick and Portland.

“This will be the hot-button issue of this budget cycle,” Joseph said.

The council will review the budget at its May 20 workshop, but won’t hear public comments at that meeting. A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for the June 3 Town Council meeting. The council’s target adoption date is June 17.

Brendan Twist can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @brendantwist.