Proposed budget could up Bethel tax rate 9.4 percent
A proposed budget that would raise the Bethel tax rate by an estimated 9.4 percent was approved last week by selectmen and the Budget Committee.
The budget was easily passed by the selectboard, while the Budget Committee narrowly voted in favor.
Under the plan, the current mil rate of 11.65 would rise to 12.74. The numbers reflect an estimate for next year’s SAD 44 share.
Residents will vote on the budget at town meeting June 12.
The proposed municipal expenditure (not including SAD 44 share) is $3,620,099, a 7.7 percent increase over the current amount ($40,000 is attributable to private donations for a proposed dog park).
Most of the increase is due to capital spending for road improvement projects.
“The $815,000 capital budget represents a $293,306 increase over FY’13,” Town Manager Jim Doar said in a memo explaining his proposal. “This increase is driven in large part by deferred maintenance on town roads.”
The FY’14 operating budget will drop, he said.Revenue sharing,
Doar’s original overall budget proposal would have raised the tax rate 11.4 percent.
The plan would not have used money from the town’s undesignated fund balance to lower the tax rate, as has been done in past years.
Doar based his reasoning on Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to cut state revenue sharing and homestead exemption reimbursements. Because there is resistance to the governor’s plan in the Legislature, Doar recommended the town budget for receiving that revenue, but still provide a financial safety net by not using undesignated funds to lower the tax rate.
If the town did not receive the state funds, he said, it would have the same effect as using $170,000 of undesignated funds. “The town can safely absorb that with no detrimental effects to cash flow,” Doar said in his memo.
But committee member Bob Everett wanted to find ways to reduce the tax hike.
He cited the amount of money paid by taxpayers in interest on late-paid taxes for 2012. The figure is $46,790, compared to a projected estimate of $25,000 for that year. The estimate for 2013 was $35,000 (with $31,801 collected to date) but the FY’14 estimate is now $45,000.
In addition, the proposed budget for lien filing expenses for FY’14 is up 42 percent, to $5,000.
“That tells us people are struggling more every year,” said Everett.
He moved to take $100,000 from undesignated funds to reduce taxes, and the other budgeters voted to approve. There was $1.1 million in the undesignated account at the end of FY’12, Doar said, and $258,000 was used in FY’13 to lower the tax rate.
The budgeters also voted to flat-fund requests from community organizations that seek money each year from the town, including one for Mollyockett Day that would have increased the contribution by three-fold, to $3,000.
The budgeters made an exception for REACH, approving $100 more than last year when a representative present noted they had not asked for an increase since 2006.
Also reduced was the supplies budget for Angevine Park.
They discussed reducing $25,000 to be set aside for future improvements to the Cole Block/Odeon Hall, where the town office is located, but in the end let it stand.
Everett also wanted to make cuts to the roads projects.
The town plans five years into the future for road improvements, but projects have been put off, Doar said.
The major road projects he proposes this year include $169,500 to grind and repave a mile of the Flat Road; $73,850 to install drainage on Chapman Street; $60,000 to change the elevation/replace the sidewalk on Chapman Street; $46,650 to resurface Chapman Street; $64,400 to pave .63 mile on the Bailey Road; $58,600 to overlay 3,480 feet of the Bird Hill Road; $36,000 to shim and surface 1,950 feet of Sunset Lane; $23,000 for the Meadowbrook Bridge Road; and $20,000 for various culvert replacements.
Selectboard Chair Stan Howe supported the proposal. “We’ve got a plan and we’re trying to follow it,” he said. “It will cost us more if we delay.”
But Everett likened the situation to a business.
“You can make a business plan,” he said. “But you can’t follow it if you don’t have the money. You just can’t do it.”
He voted against the overall budget.
Under other items, two percent raises are proposed for town employees.
Other members of the Budget Committee are Levi Brown, Bonita Sessions, David Crockett, Greg Files, Jacalyn Bell, Jim Bennett, John Devivo, Mike Jodrey, Bob Blake, Ted Davis and Steve Etheridge.