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Windfall from ecomaine welcome, but won't go far

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Windfall from ecomaine welcome, but won't go far

PORTLAND — Easy come, easy go.

That's the assessment from several area municipal managers regarding a projected windfall of savings from the regional trash service, ecomaine. Those savings will likely be used to offset proposed cuts in state revenue sharing.

Last month, ecomaine's directors voted unanimously to eliminate assessment fees for its 21 member communities. The cuts – $2.9 million in total – will reduce disposal costs by more than half for those communities beginning fiscal year 2015.

In Portland, the cuts translate to about $572,000 in savings, according to ecomaine's website. In South Portland, the savings are $380,000.

In surrounding towns, the savings are more modest, but still significant. Cumberland, for instance, will save $94,000 over last year. North Yarmouth will save $42,000.

Nonetheless, with towns and cities facing the possibility of additional cuts in revenue sharing from Augusta, the windfall may be quickly spent.

Portland City Manager Mark Rees said the city is facing $300,000 in additional cuts over last year's revenue sharing, and there's a possibility the state will cut an additional $3 million.

"As such, this reduction in ecomaine assessments will probably be used to plug holes in next year's operating budget," Rees said.

That sentiment was repeated by managers throughout the area.

In Scarborough, the town stands to gain $305,000 in savings from ecomaine, but lose $500,000 in revenue sharing, according to Town Manager Tom Hall.

In Cape Elizabeth, Town Manager Michael McGovern said its ecomaine savings of $156,000 could translate to flat property taxes for fiscal year 2015, but only if "the state does not cut revenue sharing."

In Yarmouth, where the Town Council recently enacted annual fees for use of the town's transfer station, Town Manager Nat Tupper said the savings will not be applied to anything specific. 

"It will simply be one reduced line item," he said. "It will help offset other budget pressures.  It helps and is most welcome."

Tupper said Yarmouth's dump fees, which began in November and cost $25 per year per vehicle, are projected to raise between $30,000 and $50,000 and will shift up to 8 percent of the solid waste costs onto users instead of tax revenues.

The assessment cuts are a result of "strong financial performance," according to ecomaine Chief Executive Officer Kevin Roche.

Assessment fees were created to finance ecomaine's long-term debt, which was eliminated last year. Over the past four years, the assessment fees had declined a total of 48 percent.

The remaining costs for municipalities are tipping fees, which are per-ton fees for disposal of solid waste. Those fees were reduced last year by 20 percent, from $88 per ton to $70.50.

Ben McCanna can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or bmccanna@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @BenMcCanna.