| Peter Bragdon |
The current budget season is in full swing now. For months the department heads and management have been working hard to develop a budget. That budget as developed came in at a 14% increase over last year. This is without the capital projects being included (i.e., funding capital improvement accounts and capital projects around town). The capital projects could add a few hundred thousand dollars to the budget, increasing the percentage even higher.
I am sharing this info from faithfully watching all of the selectmen budget workshops. This is all public knowledge, and I am not disclosing any inside information or representing the Budget Committee I chair with these comments. All videos of the workshops are available on the town webpage. The board will continue to hash out the budget tomorrow night, February 6, and in the next week or so and then send it to the budget committee. The budget committee will have a public hearing around the end of February and that will be the best time to give your input.
The proposed increase is on the town’s portion of the tax rate only. This does not mean that your complete tax bill will increase 14%. The numbers from the county and the school system have not arrived yet, but I am sure you will see significant increases there also. The town’s budget does not have any significant services added to it this year. The increase in the cost of labor, insurance, and fixed costs is outpacing the increase in revenue. I don’t fault the select board in their attempts to manage the budget. I also don’t fault them in their cuts that have been in preliminary discussions. As citizens we must really decide what a want is and what a need is.
There is no way around it: items have to be cut! Unfortunately, staffing at some level will have to be adjusted. Programs or services that are offered will be decreased. I am watching the select board toss around many ideas to close this gap. The other concerning issue is that last year $550,000 was used from the undesignated fund balance. We can’t do that again as the fund is lower now. Only approximately $100k was added back into that account after the last fiscal year. That is a net loss of $450k in one year. We are required to keep a set amount in that account to cover expenses while taxes are collected.
It has gotten to the point where the town is leasing items. I am absolutely against this. Leasing for us is the same as financing or taking a loan on the item. At the end of the lease we own the item. There have to be costs associated with leasing. No company is going to let you float a payment for 3 years at the same price as if you paid cash. These are not big ticket items; they are $20-$30,000 items. Speaking of making payments, the town is looking at bonding (taking a loan) to fix Stevens Brook and the dam. This will lock the town into a 5-year payment paying off the $700k. New Gloucester has worked hard to save up and pay for what we buy without financing. It is very concerning and a slippery slope that we have to go down this road.
I recently researched the mill rate for Cumberland County towns and others in the region. The mill rate is what you pay per thousand dollars of property you own. Currently it’s $16.90 for New Gloucester and that is in the middle of the towns. I included the mill rates below. On a $250k home the current bill is $4225 or $352 a month! I have heard people say that we are in the middle of a revaluation and the value of the town will increase and in turn that will lower the mill rate. That is true BUT you will still be paying the same amount of taxes. The dollars to run the town will still need to be raised from the same amount of people.
I encourage you to stay involved and informed in this process. These adjustments are not temporary. We need to structure the budget to be sustainable long term. If the cuts are for this year only, then we are in the same spot next year. With all this said, we cannot forget the real underlying issue, and that is the school budget and the county budget. Slightly over 70% of your taxes go to the school. So on that $250k house, $3000 of the $4225 tax bill is going to the SAD 15!!
I hope this brings some light to what is happening in New Gloucester. Keep your ear to the ground on this. Think about what you want and what you need. What will the suggested cuts have for an impact for services? Let’s be civil and respect everyone’s opinion.
Property Tax Rates