n-cumbcouncil-011509 Cumberland seeks 'magic' in next year's budget

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CUMBERLAND — Officials reported Monday that the town faces a nearly $282,000 budget shortfall due primarily to decreased revenues.
With that in mind, town councilors began discussing cuts to this year’s spending, as well as considerations for next year’s budget, which could face even lower revenues and might also need to accommodate a project to re-engineer Route 88.
Town Manager Bill Shane announced that halfway through this fiscal year, expenses are up 2.1 percent, primarily because of spending in public works and public safety, and revenues are down 4 percent thanks to decreases in paid excise taxes and building permit fees.
Nearly $70,000 of the increase in this year’s spending comes from the Police and Public Works departments, which have had to pay more overtime than usual this year.
Shane announced that members of the Public Works union have responded to town budget troubles by offering to forgo half their overtime pay in exchange for comp time. This means that for every 10 hours of overtime worked, the town will pay five hours of overtime and five hours of regular pay, which will be taken as vacation time. Shane said it will save the town $20,000 to $30,000 this year.
To make up some of the other $250,000, Shane outlined a handful of additional cuts:
• Freezing all non-salary, non-essential spending.
• Closing Town Hall on Fridays, which will begin next week.
• Reducing library hours by four hours each week, which is expected to impact Saturday hours.
• Reducing Information Technology and Planning Department hours.
• Reducing EMT hours during the week and covering those hours with Fire Department personnel.
• Reducing Fire Department per-diems by one shift per week.
Shane said the total savings from these cuts will be about $75,000.
He also outlined options for the town to consider as it begins drawing up next year’s budget. Though nothing is final and the council is just beginning discussions, these include:
• Eliminating all part-time benefits.
• Giving no raises to non-union staff.
• Selling one fire truck.
• Combining Fire and Rescue departments.
• Eliminating the regional rescue program with Falmouth, Yarmouth, and North Yarmouth.
• Developing a Public Safety Officer program, which would include officers trained in all three branches: fire, police and rescue.
• Developing a facilities manager/special projects/economic development position from TIF funds.
• Offering incentives for early retirement in some departments.
Shane allowed that none of the budget cuts will come “without major pain” and lots of discussion, but said that since he expects the economic crisis to continue for 18 to 24 months, “all cuts must be real and sustainable.”
“Our goal is to provide the best services we can,” he said after the Town Council meeting. “I think we can still do that, it just might look a little different, and we’ll have to ask people to bear with us.”
The Fire-Rescue consolidation and the suggested elimination of the regional rescue program elicited concerns from councilors, who said paramedic coverage would be lost through the consolidation. They said little savings would come from the regional change because Cumberland rescue crews would still have to respond as mutual aid to surrounding towns.
Councilors may yet find a compromise – they could opt to consolidate fire and rescue but maintain paramedic presence on every call, Shane said – or they could decide to keep things as they are.
Further complicating options for next year’s budget is the hope that the town will begin a $3.2 million project to re-engineer Route 88.
The recommendation from the Route 88 Bike and Pedestrian Committee is that work begin as soon as possible to keep costs as low as possible. The proposed project addresses drainage issues and includes a paved shoulder for pedestrian and bike use.
The project would bring Route 88 up to state standards, which would mean future funding for projects on that road would come from the state. The road is not currently eligible for any state money.
The project, which would be funded through a bond, would have an annual cost of about $240,000 each year for the next two decades. That figure includes a first-year budget for engineering costs and 20 years of bond payments.
Waiting on the project, councilors and committee members said, would only increase costs in the long run, as labor and materials costs rise and the road conditions worsen.
But finding room for an extra $240,000 in next year’s budget would take “magic,” Shane said.
Without changing this year’s budget at all – which would require no raises to non-union employees – the town is already looking at a 5 percent increase in the budget for next year.
Councilors requested that Shane prepare several municipal budgets ranging from zero to 3 percent increases, and that the Route 88 project be included in those figures.
Shane will bring those prepared budgets to the council in late February for review in March. Public hearings have been scheduled for April 13 and 27.

Sarah Trent can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 108 or strent@theforecaster.net.


FYI: Beginning next week, Cumberland Town Hall will be closed on Fridays. The cost-saving measure will save an anticipated $25,000 in this year’s budget. Hours will also soon be reduced at Prince Memorial Library.