WATERVILLE — City councilors are discussing all sorts of possible ways to reduce costs and increase revenue in the face of lost state aid.
The proposed $38.4 million municipal and school budget for 2014-15 is about a $1.1 million increase from the $37.2 million budget for 2013-14.
The increase is driven largely by about $700,000 in lost state revenue sharing, with fixed costs such as insurances accounting for the remainder of increase, according to City Manager Michael Roy.
Councilors in recent years have talked about the city’s need to hire a second code enforcement officer, but Roy on Tuesday said he took that position out of the proposed budget because he didn’t think the city could afford it with a proposed budget increase of more than $1 million.
During Tuesday’s council meeting, councilors and Code Enforcement Officer Garth Collins agreed that another person is needed, with Collins saying it is impossible for him to do all the work that needs to be done.
“It gets to a point where it’s frustrating,” Collins said. “It’s too much.”
Roy said the position he initially placed in the budget was that of an administrative assistant or clerical-type worker who could be in the code enforcement office, answering phones and doing other tasks so Collins could be out on the road. The city once had two code enforcement officers as well as a full-time employee who did secretarial work for code enforcement, planning and engineering, Roy said. The two positions were eliminated during then-Mayor Paul LePage’s term, he said.
“It went from two and a half (positions) to one,” Roy said.
Meanwhile, Collins said he plans to retire in a year or so and thinks someone should be trained to do his job, which he described as multifaceted and a “burn-out” position.
“I’m not going to stay here forever,” he said.
City officials talked about the possibility of increasing building permit fees to raise more city revenue, but Roy said he thinks the fees are already high enough. Colby College, for example, recently paid about a $90,000 permit fee for a new building.
Fees for new construction are based on square footage; fees for renovating are based on the estimated cost of renovation. The city’s permit fees have not increased in 14 years.
Mayor Karen Heck asked why fees have not increased when 30 percent of the property in Waterville is nontaxable, she said. An institution such as Colby College, a nonprofit that does not pay taxes, would not avoid constructing a new building because of an increase in permit fees, she said.
“They’re the ones doing the building, which is great. We love that,” she said.
Collins said a $100 building permit in Oakland would cost $2,000 in Waterville. Councilor Dana Bushee, D-Ward 6, said she thought entities that don’t pay taxes should pay more for building permits.
City officials Tuesday also talked about consolidation ideas. During discussion of the Fire Department budget, Heck asked what the benefits of combining the Winslow and Waterville departments would be.
Roy said he thought the only real savings would be in equipment purchases. The two departments already act as one in terms of manpower when there are fires, with one department responding to help the other, he said.
“It’s very much a mutual-aid arrangement now,” Roy said.
David LaFountain, who is the fire chief for both Waterville and Winslow, said he does not see each community going out in five or 10 years to buy individual trucks that might cost about $1 million each.
LaFountain noted that the communities could establish a fire district in which individual bills are sent to property owners; however, he said such a proposal is probably unlikely and would ignite a “political battle.” Roy said that would mean fire protection costs would be removed from the municipal budgets, and LaFountain said fire protection bills would be based on a property’s value and its contents.
“It’d lower the taxes, but would it increase the cost to people?” Councilor John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, asked Tuesday night.
Councilor Erik Thomas, D-Ward 4, said nonprofit organizations that don’t pay taxes now would have to pay for fire service if the towns formed a fire district. Churches and colleges are among those institutions that aren’t required to pay taxes now, but they would be required to pay in a fire district, he said.
Councilors are scheduled continue budget discussions April 22.