OAKLAND — A last-minute reworking of Oakland’s town budget includes cuts to roadwork, social service agencies and employee raises.
In all, more than $150,000 has been trimmed from the budget proposal in an effort to present voters with a second consecutive flat budget during the Town Meeting on May 6. The $4.2 million budget will have no impact on the town’s property tax rate, currently $13.80 per $1,000 of taxable property value.
Meanwhile, a proposal from Town Manager Peter Nielsen to spend $55,000 on wage and benefit increases to a group of eight town employees was cut by more than half.
Both the Town Council and the budget committee have voted to recommend the budget proposal, under which a select group of employees will instead receive about half of the $55,000 that Nielsen had suggested.
“The instructions I heard were that people did not begrudge raises, but they didn’t want to see the property tax go up,” Nielsen said.
Nielsen said he suggested the raises because those eight positions — head librarian, assistant librarian, public works director, highway foreman, transfer station manager, fire chief, police chief and police captain — were paid significantly less than the state averages for other similarly-sized towns around the state.
The employees will instead receive raises and benefit increases totaling about $23,000, an amount Councilor Dana Wrigley said is more in line with the ability of property owners to pay.
“I would have liked to have seen us do more for the people who are underpaid, but in the situation everybody’s in, we weren’t prepared to do that,” Wrigley said. “I think it was a good compromise.”
Other town employees will receive a 2 percent pay increase under the budget.
Wrigley said that, while the national economy is showing signs of recovering, the council decided that a flat budget was more in keeping with what they see in Oakland.
“They tell us the recession’s over, but a lot of people around here haven’t seen that,” he said.
Most of the $156,000 cut from the budget came from two major items — a $45,000 line item to help convert municipal buildings to natural gas and a $50,000 cut to a roadwork project on Hussey Hill Road.
The natural gas conversion, planned to take advantage of a new pipeline being built through the area, probably won’t be an option until 2015, Wrigley said, allowing the cost to be deferred to next year’s budget.
The Hussey Hill Road project, which consisted largely of ditching and pavement work, was scaled back from an original budget of $100,000.
“We’ll take $50,000 and go as far as we can with it,” Wrigley said. “We’ll take two years to do the same amount of work.”
Various social service agencies were also targeted by the reductions. In the original budget, the town was slated to give amounts ranging from $500 to $2,000 to a dozen social service agencies.
Instead, the council voted to cap the allocations at $1,000, which had an effect of cutting $2,000 allocations to the YMCA, the Crisis and Counseling Center, the Family Violence Project and Spectrum Generations in half.
Other affected groups included the American Red Cross, which had sought $1,500; Hospice Volunteers of Waterville Area, which sought $1,750; and Mid Maine Homeless Shelter, which sought $1,400.
The Oakland Food Bank, which asked for $5,000, was exempted from the cuts.
The cuts come one year after councilors set a $2,000 cap on requests from those groups.
Wrigley said that when town leaders looked at how to get to a flat budget, the social agencies were one of many areas that felt the pain.
“We’re cutting back on our roadwork,” he said. “If our people in town are cutting back, we felt we should cut on everything. Everything in the budget was fair game.”
The council will meet March 26 to sign the warrant articles in anticipation of a Town Meeting on May 6.