Thursday, December 12, 2013
GARDINER — Councilors approved a revised budget for next year Wednesday night that will keep the tax rate flat for a second year in a row.
The budget still must go through a second reading at the July 10 council meeting, but City Manager Scott Morelli said he doesn’t expect anything to change.
Two weeks ago, cuts to municipal revenue sharing from the state sent city staff scrambling for $185,000 in additional cuts or savings after councilors and residents rejected a city manager suggestion to increase taxes.
The largest proposed cuts will come from eliminating some of the road paving budget, no longer funding a part-time librarian for the Boys & Girls Club and not funding the purchase of new air packs for the fire department.
No residents spoke during the budget public hearing Wednesday night and only one member of the public attended the meeting — a contrast to a packed room with about 10 speakers at the meeting two weeks ago.
The one member of the public in the audience, George Trask, missed the public hearing portion of the meeting but thanked councilors and city staff for holding the taxes flat.
Trask strongly objected to Morelli’s recommendation to raise taxes at the last meeting.
“I know its been a hard job,” Trask said on Wednesday, “and the department heads have done a fine job, and it’s really appreciated by us poor people.”
The tax increase proposed by Morelli would have brought the property tax rate above the $20 per $1,000 of assessed value mark — something councilors and city staff have avoided because of a concern it could prevent people from moving to Gardiner.
Gardiner’s tax rate is $19.90 per $1,000 of assessed value.
Mayor Thomas Harnett and other councilors thanked Morelli and other city staff for finding the needed cuts.
“This was not fun to have to take a scalpel to your budgets,” he said.
Some councilors did raise concerns about the proposal to cut funding for a part-time librarian.
Councilor Chris Leake said it was tough for him to see the Boys & Girls Club library be eliminated when the city restored funding for cemetery maintainenance, which was cut in Morelli’s original budget.
He said the 1,300 items checked out, according to city Library Director Ann Davis, is a significant amount.
Students that had used the Boys & Girls Club library will still be able to check the books out at Gardiner Public Library, Davis said.
The part-time librarian position at the Boys & Girls Club has been vacant for less than a month, Morelli said.
“It’s not an ideal change, but I think we cobbled together a budget that makes the best of a bad situation,” Morelli said.
Harnett said he found himself cheering for a state budget to pass, even though he thinks it’s a bad budget for municipalities.
The budget cuts municipal revenue sharing by a third, but LePage had proposed suspending it entirely.
Harnett said he has grave concerns looking forward if the state cuts funding further.
“We’re not going to be able to do what we did this year, next year, if we’re faced with additional cuts,” he said.
The city could already be facing a budget gap of at least $500,000 in fiscal year 2015 if it doesn’t get additional funding from the state or increase its revenue base.
“If we continue to see decreases in revenue sharing — not just Gardiner but all municipalities — we’re going to see a very different view of what government is,” Harnett said “And I, frankly, think government does a lot of good things. I think municipal governments do great things.”
Paul Koenig — 621-5663