Preliminary Brunswick budget forecast predicts tax increase
BRUNSWICK — The search for a new town manager and the proposed construction of a new connector road at Cook's Corner are among the top items on the Town Council's agenda this year.
Councilors met for their annual day-long retreat on Saturday, Jan. 11, to discuss the 2014 agenda along with next year's budget, which is tentatively expected to cause a property tax increase.
The council will discuss the process of searching for a new town manager – prompted by the announcement of Town Manager Gary Brown's resignation last month – at its Jan. 21 meeting at Curtis Memorial Library.
That's when the council is expected to schedule a workshop for Feb. 10 to discuss the construction of a new Cook's Corner connector road, which councilors hope will stimulate economic development and increase safety for pedestrians and cyclists.
"It's an important project for east Brunswick, District 1 and District 5," Councilor David Watson said, "but it's an important project for Brunswick in total."
The council is also expected to hold another workshop by March to discuss the possibility of a new property revaluation, which hasn't happened since 2000 and would attempt to bring equity to assessed values of different properties in town.
Town manager search
At the retreat, councilors discussed taking a different approach to hiring a town manager, which cost the town around $50,000 in consultant fees for a national search in 2009 that ultimately resulted with Brown, the acting town manager, getting the job.
Councilors said they would like to avoid using such an expensive approach again, suggesting the possibility of using the Maine Municipal Association to advertise the position and network with candidates.
"I want to look at other avenues that are cheaper and more local," Councilor Gerald Favreau said.
At next week's meeting, the council will examine the job description used when Brown was hired and discuss any possible changes.
The council will also examine different approaches Maine towns employ when they search for managers. A document in the packet for the council's Jan. 21 meeting showed that Auburn, Freeport, Lisbon, Sanford and Topsham used consultants, but had different approaches for selecting them.
Councilor Suzan Wilson said while the search and hiring process for a new town manager should be the primary focus of the council, citizen and staff panels should be able to weigh in on the qualifications of an ideal candidate.
Early budget forecast
The council also received an early budget forecast for fiscal year 2015 and discussed the possibility of beginning the process earlier than last year.
Finance Director John Eldridge, who is expected to develop next year's budget in lieu of Brown's upcoming departure, said there are preliminary forecasts of revenue and expenditures that point to possible property tax increases.
Eldridge said, state revenue sharing is expected to be lower than the current fiscal year, as a result of a proposed $40 million statewide cut to the program. Under the current proposal, the town will lose $650,000 next year, meaning it would have to increase taxes by 2 percent to make up for that loss.
Chairman Benet Pols and Wilson said they expect to lobby against the proposed $40 million cut to state revenue sharing, which will be discussed at a Jan. 22 public hearing of the Legislature's Appropriations Committee in Augusta.
In addition to the possible loss of state revenue, there was one-time revenue of $290,000 for the current fiscal year that won't be available for next year. The money came from the sale of a parcel of land on Thomas Point Road and the Recreation Center property at 30 Federal St.
That loss would increase taxes by an eighth of 1 percent.
On the expenditure side, Eldridge said, a combined increase in salaries and benefits, as a result of various union contracts, and restoration of capital projects that were cut for this year could lead to an additional 3 percent tax increase.
Eldridge said he expects to have more solid figures by early February.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the town's cost of hiring a consultant for its 2009 town manager search.