Yarmouth weighs budget hike, public safety bond

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YARMOUTH — Town Manager Nat Tupper has proposed a $12.6 million town budget for fiscal year 2019, up approximately 4.5 percent, or $544,000, from current spending. 

The result would be an increase of less than about 1 percent in the municipal tax rate, adding about 16 cents to the town’s current rate of $17.16 per $1,000 of valuation. 

Tupper anticipates an increase in revenue other than property taxes of about $4.8 million, or 4.5 percent, from line items such as excise tax collection and ambulance fees. 

At the same time they’re considering the budget, councilors are reviewing a proposal of an estimated $8.3 million public safety facility that could be tied into the same bond referendum as the School Committee’s proposed $32 million facilities update

Drivers of the increased budget include costs for staffing, programming, capital reserves, and wages and overhead, according to Tupper.

The budget proposes adding a shared officer to the fire department and code enforcement office to help staff with building inspections. 

“A lot of this came out of our concerns of public safety and the conditions of buildings,” Tupper said. “But also the workload in our planning and development office … We think that if we could share a position between the two we could make some difference.” 

Tupper said the public works department is also in need of another equipment operator. 

The town would also like to put more money into communications to help keep the public in the know about all town happenings, which Tupper estimates will require a 2.5 percent increase in the communication department’s budget, from about $203,000 to $208,000. 

The budget also shows increases in pay for per diem emergency medical responders of about 7.5 percent, or $13,950, over the course of the year.

“Our per diem paramedics (are paid) … significantly less than surrounding communities,” Tupper said. “Which means that we can’t get them.”

Increasing pay for paramedics, along with other line items such as equipment repairs and maintenance, would increase the fire-rescue budget from about $653,000 to $$695,000. 

The only shift in programming from the start of this fiscal year was approving a contract with Southern Maine Agency on Aging to hire a resource specialist as part of Yarmouth’s Aging in Place initiative. Tupper said the program, which started on Jan. 1, is going well and will cost $25,000 to continue. 

Although Tupper said he cut requests for capital reserves by $245,000, he anticipates the town will still see an increase of about $65,000 in the budget for the parks department, technology and solid waste reserves, as well as improvements to a pedestrian bridge. 

Debt service is expected to go up about $73,500 but, “It’s not new debt it’s just the normal variation from year to year,” Tupper clarified. 

Wages and overhead related to payroll are estimated to rise $190,800, due in part to increases in insurance and retirement plans. Tupper said this figure is relatively standard year to year. 

The council will consider the budget during an Operations Committee meeting on Thursday, March 29. 

Public safety facility 

During an Operations Committee meeting on March 22, the council heard an updated proposal for a public safety facility from Port City Architects. 

In February, the council was presented with a proposal to renovate and expand the fire station at 178 North Road to house both the town’s fire and police departments.

The council asked Port City Architects to come back this month with a price breakdown of the project to help decide whether it would make more sense logistically and financially to build around the structure or replace it entirely. 

On Thursday, Port City Architects suggested rather than renovating the fire department’s three fire bays at an estimated $8.6 million, or $282 per square foot, it would be less expensive to avoid renovation costs by replacing all the existing bays for approximately $8.3 million. 

The proposed plans would create an approximately 30,800-square-foot, L-shaped facility. It would add a second floor to the fire station that would serve as living quarters, complete with separate bathing, bunking, dining, storage, and laundry space.

The first floor of the fire station would be used for office space, reception, storage, meeting rooms, and a five-engine garage.

The Police Department would be to the rear of the proposed addition, connected to the fire station by a shared lobby, restrooms, fitness room, and emergency operation center/training space. 

The one-story police station would house office and storage space, conference rooms, restrooms, locker rooms, booking and interview rooms, and a laboratory.

Moving the police station out of its current location in an annex of Town Hall at 200 Main Street would free up space for Community Services, which is stationed in a modular unit behind Town Hall. 

Andrew Hyland, of Port City Architects, said he doesn’t anticipate many renovations are needed to move Community Services into the Police Department’s space. He estimates about $50,000 is needed to make the move. 

The council plans to introduce this option during a workshop on April 5 for discussion during their following workshop in May. 

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

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