Teen center funding survives Freeport budget vote
FREEPORT — The Town Council unanimously approved a $9.8 million operating budget Tuesday, which will raise taxes by an estimated 3.87 percent in fiscal 2014.
The true impact on next year's taxes won't be known until the end of the month when the amount of state revenue sharing is announced and when Regional School Unit 5 finalizes its budget after a June 11 referendum.
Voters in Durham, Freeport and Pownal will decide on the school budget and a proposed $17 million dollar bond for an expansion project at Freeport High School. If voters approve the bond, the school district has until June 30 to notify the town of any tax impact in fiscal 2014.
If there is no impact, the mil rate will rise by 55 cents, from $15.45 to $16 per $1,000 of assessed value, which translates to additional property taxes of $120 per year for a median home of $220,000 in Freeport.
At Tuesday's council meeting, the vast majority of the $9.8 million operating budget sailed through discussions in three minutes. Then a proposed $7,500 appropriation for The Port Teen Center brought the meeting to a sudden standstill.
For the next 20 minutes, councilors haggled over three options: fund the teen center at $7,500, the same amount as last year; reduce funding by 67 percent to $2,500; or reduce funds to other human services agencies to pay for flat funding at the center.
Councilor Andy Wellen proposed reducing funds to Freeport human service agencies with national ties, like the Red Cross, in order to pay for the teen center while also hedging against potential budget increases from RSU 5.
Council Chairman Jim Hendricks disagreed with Wellen, saying that any cuts to national human service agencies have an impact on local residents.
"While they may not be Freeport-based (agencies), the numbers are staggering how many Freeport residents are served by all those groups," Hendricks said.
Councilor Sarah Tracey also argued in favor of flat-funding the center without any cuts to other programs.
"I think the teen center provides an essential service," she said. "It has the potential to relieve the burden on other services, such as the library and police department."
Councilor-at-Large Rich DeGrandpre, who has been involved in budget discussions for more than a decade, said he has seen the teen center's fundraising efforts deteriorate over the years and would like to see it rebound in the next few years.
"Let's see if they can figure out how to do that. There's got to be somebody still alive in Freeport who knows how," DeGrandpre quipped.
In the end, the council voted 6-0 to approve the budget with flat funding for the teen center and no other amendments. Councilor-at-Large Melanie Sachs recused herself from discussion and voting on human service funding because she recently accepted a job with Freeport Community Services.
Councilor Scott Gleeson said he was satisfied with the budget.
"I think every department head has done a very good job of trying to cut things and trying to keep things somewhat neutral. When I'm looking at this budget I just see a bunch of zero-percent (changes)," Gleeson said.
Later Tuesday, the council passed two more budgets: a $945,000 capital improvement budget that will be paid through reserve funds; and a $219,500 Destination Freeport TIF budget to provide funds for the Chamber of Commerce, Freeport Economic Development Corp., Nordica Theater and more.