Topsham eyes 6% municipal budget increase

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TOPSHAM — A municipal budget 6.35% greater than current spending was expected to be adopted by the Board of Selectmen Thursday, April 11, and will go to a Town Meeting vote May 15.

The $12.7 million spending plan, up about $759,000 from this year’s budget, does not include assessments to the town from School Administrative District 75 and Sagadahoc County. Town Manager Rich Roedner has budgeted placeholder numbers that reflect no increase from last year – $10.2 million for schools and $1.7 million for the county – although those figures have yet to be finalized.

Fire Chief Chris McLaughlin proposed two new employees as he modernizes his department: a full-time firefighter to lessen reliance on per diem people for shift coverage and adding a second medic to the third shift.

Between the two positions, the department would have round-the-clock coverage with at least one medic all the time, Roedner said. The department would also be able to have two runs at night, whereas “today we have to await call response if there is a second call overnight,” he noted.

Although Roedner had in February not recommended those positions for next year’s budget, the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee disagreed. The fire/rescue service line item is up 18% (nearly $180,000), due in part to the new positions.

Roedner proposes an 82% ($73,000) hike in the finance manager line item, due to adding a new full-time employee that will help the finance director with daily money management tasks. That aid will allow the director to focus more time on the town’s conversion to a new financial software program and “provide a remedy to the critical failure point of only having one person who can manage our books,” Roedner said in February.

Payroll lines are flat, since contract negotiations with the town’s collective bargaining units continue, leaving the impacts unknown. Roedner has set aside $180,000 in the insurance line item to cover payroll increases.

Public Works could rise about $90,000 (7.3%), due largely to adding a staff member assigned to town-owned facilities. Roedner noted that the department lacks someone who is dedicated to fixing building issues that regularly arise, such as stuck doors and other minor repairs.

“We rely on DPW to do most of this work, but without a dedicated person to these tasks, needs get in line with other obligations that DPW has,” he pointed out.

The solid waste line item is up almost 13%, nearly $51,000, due largely to new solid waste and recycling contracts that are impacted by changes worldwide in the market, Roedner said.

The town proposes a 17.8%, or nearly $73,000, increase in the Parks and Recreation Department, which would fund insurance rate hikes and raise a half-time maintenance position to full time.

A nearly 10% (about $64,000) hike in the Topsham Free Library budget would in part increase a part-time position to full time, including full benefits, Roedner said. Additional hours are also budgeted for several other positions.

If the budget, and school and county assessments remain the same, Topsham’s overall tax rate could increase 80 cents (4.28%), to reach $19.53 per $100,000 of property valuation. But Roedner stressed that unknowns, such as the town’s final valuation this year and concrete school and county numbers, will likely impact that estimate.

Alex Lear can be reached at 780-9085 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.