HALLOWELL — A proposed city budget would hike property taxes by nearly 10 percent largely to fund vehicle replacements and a paving project, but the mayor says there is little appetite for such an increase.
City Manager Michael Starn called his proposed budget, which calls for $2.5 million in city spending in the 2015 fiscal year beginning in July, “a starting point for discussion” on the city’s financial picture, while noting “there’s a lot of concern” on the council about a large tax increase.
That budget would be $344,000, or nearly 16 percent, more than last year’s budget, necessitating a 9.7 percent property tax increase. On a $150,000 home, that would mean a tax increase of nearly $250. The current tax rate is $17.10 per $1,000 of valuation.
However, there are caveats to Starn’s early budget. Since the budgets for Kennebec County and Regional School Unit 2 haven’t been determined, he used last year’s levels to estimate Hallowell’s spending this year.
“Trying to present a budget that is more than a starting point for discussion in March is hard to do,” Starn said. “We just don’t have the numbers.”
The city council on Monday will vote to refer the proposed budget to the city’s Finance Committee. Councilor Mark Sullivan, chairman of the committee, said it’s too early to tell what the end result will look like.
Many of the numbers are sure to change, which could have a large impact on the city’s books. Last year, Hallowell approved a budget that cut municipal spending by 8 percent. However, property taxes also went up 8 percent mostly due to a change in the city’s share of the school district budget, which it shares with Farmingdale, Richmond, Dresden and Monmouth.
Another hike is an outcome the city’s elected officials are sure to not want to repeat as they fine-tune the budget over the next few months.
“I cannot picture us having an 8 or 9 percent increase this year,” said Mayor Mark Walker.
But the majority of the increase, about $180,000, is because of an aggressive capital improvement plan outlined by Starn, which aims to pave several city streets, replace vehicles and renovate buildings, among other things, over a five-year period.
In 2015, the year affecting the budget, Starn suggested buying an $80,000 sidewalk plow and a public works pickup truck for $35,000, paving Summer Street, fixing sidewalks on Second, Lincoln and Winthrop streets, overhauling a culvert and stormwater systems and improving parking.
Long-term goals in the plan, either four or five years away, include paying a city share of $600,000 to build a joint fire station with Farmingdale and buying a new fire truck and street sweeper.
Still, Walker said some of the immediate projects could be deferred and Starn acknowleged that some may not make this year’s cut and he included them after councilors suggested investing in city infrastructure.
Starn’s goal is to finalize a budget by June 1, but that isn’t a hard deadline. Hallowell didn’t have one last year until August, operating under the terms of the previous budget until then.