Topsham projects increased spending, revenue

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TOPSHAM — Although municipal spending next fiscal year could increase 10.4 percent, the hike is expected to be largely offset by revenue growth of 37 percent, Town Manager Rich Roedner said in an interview March 23.

The draft town budget shows a fiscal 2018 spending plan of $10.3 million, an increase of nearly $970,000. The tax rate is still being determined, with the assessment from School Administrative District 75 – currently figured at $9.8 million, up 6.7 percent – still a moving target, and the town’s valuation not final until August.

Much of the spending increase is due to a proposed $875,000, or 113 percent, hike in Topsham’s capital program, bringing the total to $1.6 million. Of that amount, about $265,000 could be spent on design and construction of a replacement culvert to run parallel to Main Street in the Lower Village.

The town also looks to purchase a trackless sidewalk plow for $140,000.

The old fire station in the Lower Village, used as storage since the new station opened in 2007, is in “tough shape” with a deteriorating roof, Roedner said. The town proposes to spend $15,000 to demolish the building, and then another $180,000 to build a 50-by-50-foot steel storage facility in the area of the Public Works Department.

Landscaping and screening along the newest phase of a bicycle and pedestrian path, much of which runs parallel to the U.S. Route 196 Coastal Connector, could cost another $20,000 in capital spending.

The capital spending increase is being matched by a revenue hike in surplus, and a shifting of tax increment financing funds from being placed in a reserve account, Roedner explained.

Higher revenues and lower expenditures caused a jump in surplus from $200,000 this year to a projected $1 million next year. The town now needs to bring surplus funds back into its target range of 16.7-18 percent of the operating budget, Roedner said. As a result, another half-million dollars is going toward tax relief, and $500,000 toward the town’s capital program.

One reason for the revenue increase is that the town received more in excise tax than expected. The town had also funded its Health Reimbursement Arrangement plan at 100 percent this year, but “not nearly all that money got spent, so that money rolled into the general fund, and now we’ve appropriated money (for fiscal 2018) at a lesser percentage,” Roedner said.

The culvert and fire station demolition would be funded through TIF money, the storage building and bike path work through surplus, and the sidewalk plow from both TIF funds and surplus.

Another $50,000 in TIF funds could go toward designing traffic improvements around the Elm Street Extention area, Roedner said.

“This is our first significant investment of TIF monies into the Lower Village,” he noted. “We’re confident that by addressing one of the issues that will be taken care of in this process … that might be enough to start priming the pump down there for some more private investments.”

Budget recommendations from the Board of Selectmen and Budget Committee are all in agreement, except for the matter of part-time help in the town’s assessing and finance offices. Selectmen may decide at the April 13 budget public hearing to recommend the position, as the Budget Committee has, which would add $35,000 to the selectmen’s budget, Roedner said.

Residents will vote on the budget by line item at Town Meeting May 17.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 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.