FREEPORT — Town Manager Peter Joseph on Tuesday presented the Town Council with a $10 million budget for fiscal year 2019 that, combined with a proposed $33 million school budget, would raise property taxes 51 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
The budget reflects a more than $295,000 increase from current spending. If the combined budget is adopted by Town Council later this spring, property owners would see a tax rate of $15.49 per $1,000 property valuation, up from $14.95.
The town is proposing a 2-cent, or 0.69 percent, increase to its portion of the tax rate, while Regional School Unit 5 is proposing a 49-cent increase. The Cumberland Country tax levy, which is not finalized, projects a 3-cent increase per $1,000 of assessed value.
In his memo to the Town Council, Joseph said this year is no exception to a series of challenging annual budgets. The FY19 budget, which he said is “largely a maintenance budget,” is up about 2.3 percent from the current budget of about $9.7 million. However, the spending increase is almost completely offset by an almost $263,000 increase in non-property tax revenue, such as excise tax.
According to Joseph’s memo, a challenge facing the town is the loss in state revenue sharing, which is comprised of sales and income taxes received from all over the state. At its height in FY08, the town received almost $700,000 in revenue sharing; the FY19 projection is $360,000.
Primary drivers in the increase in operating expenses include employee wage and step increases, which account for approximately $160,000. This is due in large part to frequent turnover of longtime employees in FY17 and FY18, as well as employees being budgeted to receive a 2.1 percent increase during FY19.
This, the memo states, is the average of wage increases given in surrounding towns.
The proposed budget also accounts for an $11,000 wage increase in the Fire/Rescue Department for additional shifts picked up by staff so Fire Chief Charles Jordan won’t have to cover open shifts, as he does now.
Joseph said Jordan frequently has to cover ambulance runs, which takes him away from overseeing department operations.
“As chief, he should be in the office interacting with residents,” Joseph said.
An additional $40,000 was budgeted to fund a shared employee with RSU 5, who would split their year between the schools and town, mainly caring for the school fields and grounds for six months and plowing for the town in the winter.
The council will hold a workshop to further discuss the budget on May 15. Information sessions will be held from 5-6 p.m. May 23 and 7:30-8:30 p.m. May 24 in Town Council Chambers, before a public hearing on June 5 and a June 19 target date for budget adoption.