Train station, athletic fields add costs in Freeport

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FREEPORT — The town is looking at a combined municipal budget of $4.85 million that largely maintains services in fiscal 2014 while balancing potentially massive state revenue losses.

The Town Council adopted the capital spending program Tuesday and received the operating budget from town staff.

While the Regional School Unit 5 budget is still being deliberated, the combined county, school and town tax increase for the fiscal 2014 budget is expected to be 2.34 percent, a slight reduction from the 2013 budget increase of 2.62 percent, according to budget projections.

Significant new costs will be seen in the first full year of operations related to the Amtrak Downeaster train, and maintenance of the Hunter and Pownal roads athletic fields.

The town will spend more than $102,000 to run the train station, which began operations late last year. The town will also have to pick up the $84,000 tab for the athletic fields, while also paying for at least $59,000 for environmental permitting fees and storm water improvements.

The largest unknown in the budget is how the state Legislature will handle Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed budget, which eliminates about $850,000 in state revenue for Freeport, including $525,000 in municipal revenue sharing.

“This budget was difficult to prepare because of the state picture,” Finance Director Abbe Yacoben said. “If a decision is made to cut state revenues, there will be some hard decisions.”

Town officials are betting that some, but not all of that state aid will be cut, meaning Freeport would likely have to draw from its $1 million tax stabilization fund and consider making deeper cuts in services.

The town deliberates the capital and operating budgets separately. The operating budget discussions begin in May, when residents will have the chance to meet with department heads about their proposed budgets.

The capital improvement budget largely remained intact from the last budget discussion at the beginning of the month, with the largest spending proposals coming from the Public Works Department, comprehensive town improvements and upgrades to municipal facilities.

Public Works reduced its request from $479,000 to $289,000, pushing the purchase of new equipment and vehicles into the future. The largest expenses are a $115,000 truck chassis and a dump truck bed plow and wing attachment for $94,000.

The town also is looking to continue work on a $150,000 drainage and overlay project on Torrey Hill Range Road, which is the largest portion of the $245,000 worth of comprehensive town improvements.

According to town staff at previous meetings, the road has had maintenance over the years, but some areas continue to degrade and have drainage issues.

The council struck a few items from the fiscal 2014 facilities budget, reducing it by $84,000 from earlier projections of about $268,000. Several items were put off for future years, including computer upgrades and a surveillance camera at the train station platform.

The Greater Freeport Chamber of Commerce had its funding request cut in half by the council to $16,000. It will also see that funding cut in half again the following year and eventually reduced to $1,000 by 2016.

Although the structure of the organization will be debated in the coming months, the Freeport Economic Development Corp., a private corporation funded by the town, will keep its $105,000 in funding. The majority of that funding pays for Executive Director Keith McBride’s $90,000 salary.

The town will host a series of meetings next month on the operating budget, with the first workshop on May 7. The final combined public budget hearing will be May 21, with its adoption scheduled for June 4.

The RSU 5 school budget will go to voters June 11.

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.