Freeport budget includes 2% hike in property taxes

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FREEPORT — Property owners will see a 30-cent increase in the tax rate if the proposed municipal and Regional School Unit 5 fiscal 2013 budgets are approved.

On Tuesday, town councilors scheduled a public hearing for 7 p.m. on May 15 to discuss the $8.77 million municipal budget.

About 25 percent of the projected tax rate of $15.50 per $1,000 of assessed value – an increase of about 2 percent – will help fund the municipal spending plan presented by town Finance Director Abbe Yacoben.

Property taxes will fund $4.8 million of the municipal general fund, with $1.2 million in anticipated excise taxes and $500,000 in surplus funds to be used as well.

The budget adds more than $312,000 in spending for municipal operations, with $138,000 of that funded by the proposed property tax increase. If approved by councilors on May 17, the municipal share of the property tax rate would increase from $3.98 per $1,000 of assessed value to $4.08.

For the owner of a home valued at $200,000, the anticipated tax rate of $15.50 would increase the annual tax bill by $51, to more than $2,600.

Yacoben said town obligations to Cumberland County add 66 cents to the tax rate. Freeport’s share of RSU 5 operations comprises $10.82 of the projected local tax rate.

Yacoben told councilors the biggest reasons for spending increases include additional personnel, the cost of maintaining the new depot for the Amtrak Downeaster, and a potential increase to meet general assistance obligations no longer reimbursed by the state.

The budget proposes adding part-time help to assist the new town manager in the fall and a second overnight per-diem emergency responder. The positions require a $57,000 increase, but the emergency responder position is offset by proposed new user fees on commercial emergency alarm boxes.

A change in the alarm systems ordinance would allow the town to assess a $500 installation fee (increased from the current $450), and a new annual fee of $275. The fees would generate $35,000 in revenue, Yacoben said.

The current projection requiring an additional $27,000 in general assistance funding could double by the time councilors vote on the budget on May 17, Yacoben and Town Council Chairman Jim Cassida warned.

The town is waiting for the final vote in the Legislature and response from Gov. Paul LePage on next year’s adjusted state budget before determining how much must be set aside to offset state reductions in general assistance spending for low-income residents.

The arrival of rail service to town adds at least $47,000 in obligations to pay for maintaining the depot, platform and insuring the structures, Yacoben said.

After scheduling the public hearing, councilors will now meet individually with town administrators to discuss the budget. Public meetings with administrators are scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 8, and 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, May 9, at Town Hall.

After the budget hearing on May 15 there will be a council workshop at 5:30 p.m. May 16 on the budget, followed by the vote to adopt the budget on May 17.

On the school side, RSU 5 School Board members will have their final vote on the proposed $24.68 million fiscal 2013 RSU 5 budget at a 6:30 p.m. meeting Wednesday, May 9, at Freeport High School.

The public meeting to vote on elements of the budget encompassing operations in Freeport, Durham and Pownal will be held at 6:30 p.m., May 23, at the high school.

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

Sidebar Elements

Freeport budget schedule at a glance

• May 2-10: Town councilors meet with department heads.

• May 8: Public budget workshop with town administrators, 6 p.m.

• May 9: Public budget workshop with town administrators, 7:30 a.m.

• May 9: School Board budget vote, 6:30 p.m.

• May 15: Town Council public hearing on municipal budget, 7 p.m.

• May 16: Council public workshop on municipal budget, 5:30 p.m.

• May 17: Council vote on municipal budget, 6:30 p.m.

• May 23: School budget public hearing, 6:30 p.m.

• June 12: School budget referendum.

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.