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Freeport aims to cut capital spending in half

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Freeport aims to cut capital spending in half

FREEPORT — Facing a potential loss of $850,000 in state aid, the Town Council Tuesday night indicated it remains committed to keeping the new capital improvement budget lean.

The proposed capital budget for fiscal 2014 is about $1 million, significantly less than this year's budget of nearly $2 million.

The town deliberates the capital and operating budgets separately. The operating budget discussions begin in May.

Under proposals from Gov. Paul LePage, the town could lose all of its $525,000 in revenue sharing from the state, on top of additional cuts. 

Town officials are betting that some, but not all of that state aid will be cut, meaning Freeport would likely have to draw from its $1 million tax stabilization fund and consider making deeper cuts in services, Finance Director Abbe Yacoben said.

The largest portions of the proposed capital improvement budget come from the Public Works Department, comprehensive town improvements and upgrades to municipal facilities, according to the proposed budget.

Public Works is requesting $479,000 for new equipment and vehicles, which includes a $120,000 truck chassis replacement, a $120,000 excavator, and a $105,000 street sweeper, among other items.

The town also is looking to continue work on a $150,000 drainage and overlay project on Torrey Hill Range Road, which comprises the largest portion of the $245,000 worth of comprehensive town improvements.

The road has had maintenance over the years, but some areas continue to degrade and have drainage issues, according to town staff.

Two other larger items include the environmental permitting of the Hunter and Pownal roads fields, for $59,000, and a $24,000 study to develop a plan to make the town more pedestrian- and bike-friendly.

In the fiscal 2014 budget, the town is anticipating needing to spend more than $1 million on improvement projects, including $500,000 for upgrades to Wardtown Road and $300,000 for South Freeport Village projects.

New equipment and maintenance upgrades bring the municipal facilities budget to $268,000, although the council indicated on Tuesday that they'll trim that budget by at least $70,000 before the budget is approved.

The two areas the council said it will likely cut are computer upgrades and a request by the train station manager to have a surveillance camera installed on the platform.

Two smaller funding requests are also in play, from the Greater Freeport Chamber of Commerce and the Freeport Economic Development Corp.

The two private groups combined receive $137,000 from the town.

FEDC, a private corporation that has the town as its sole funding source, is designed to help connect and promote the Freeport business community.

Its requested budget for this year is $105,000, most of which is to pay the $90,000 salary of Director Keith McBride.

The Chamber, which is supposed to be weaning off town support, is requesting another $32,000 next year for operations, down $4,000 from this year.

The council said it would like to see more tangible evidence of where and how the allocated money is spent before approving either group's funding.

Although many of the departments' budgets remained steady from earlier projections, the Fire Department dramatically trimmed its budget.

The department cut costs by $90,000 from an initial request, eliminating mobile computers and thermal imaging cameras. What's left is $15,000 for protective clothing.

The council is expected to adopt the capital budget at a final hearing on April 23.

The town begins deliberation on the operating budget May 7. Final combined budget approval is expected June 4.

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or wgraff@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.