Topsham selectmen send $8M budget to May Town Meeting

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TOPSHAM — The Board of Selectmen approved warrant articles for the May 18 Town Meeting, where residents will vote on an $8.09 million fiscal 2012 municipal budget.

Next year’s spending plan reflects a slight decrease from the current $8.14 million. The entire town budget, including Sagadahoc County and School Administrative District 75 costs, would be $18.4 million, up from $18.3 million.

With revenues at $3.6 million – down from $3.9 million this year – the amount derived from taxes next year would be $14.9 million, up from $14.4 million. The property tax rate would rise from the current $14.75 per $1,000 of valuation to $15.91.

Under the current mil rate, the owner of a median home valued at about $196,000 paid about $2,900 in taxes; at next year’s projected rate, taking into account reduced land and commercial values, the median home value will shrink to $188,000, but its owner will pay more than $2,990 in taxes, an increase of $93, Town Manager Cornell Knight said.

He noted that if the entire budget were kept at the same level next year, and no new money were raised, Topsham’s loss of about $45 million in value means that its mil rate would increase 70 cents.

Administration costs will drop from about $289,000 to about $194,000, reflecting the lack of funding for the assistant town manager’s position. That position has been open since last December’s firing of Paul Caruso, who served as assistant manager for nearly 10 years.

Spending on fire and rescue services will increase from nearly $547,000 to more than $638,000, Knight said, partly due to the addition of a per diem/part time position to handle times during the day when the department is short of personnel.

Contractual services would rise from nearly $120,000 to nearly $165,000, to cover anticipated legal fees associated with the town’s ongoing court case with Mariner Tower. The lawsuit challenges the town’s refusal to allow a cellular communications tower at 14 Oak St. A trial is expected in August.

Residents next month will be asked to allow the Board of Selectmen to solicit bids for a $135,000 plow truck; the $35,000 down payment would come from taxes and the $100,000 balance would be paid over five years through a general obligation bond or lease/purchase agreement.

Voters will also decide whether to allow the Board of Selectmen to go out to bid on a $800,000 ladder truck. A $200,000 down payment would include $50,000 from taxes and $150,000 from the fire truck reserve account. The remaining $600,000 would be paid over 10 years through a general obligation bond or lease/purchase agreement.

Both the plow and ladder trucks would replace vehicles in use since the late 1980s, Knight said.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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.