GARDINER — City Manager Scott Morelli presented city councilors Wednesday night with a long list of cuts needed in order to reduce the tax hike from next year’s budget.
Following objections by residents and some city councilors to a proposed 5 percent tax hike from the city’s budget, Morelli presented a list of possible cuts that would reduce the property tax increase to 2.5 percent.
The proposals, which Morelli developed with department heads, would result the layoffs of two full-time staff members, the reduction of a two full-time staffers to part time and the reduction of around 30 budget items. It would also eliminate all but one student aide at the library and a public works intern.
However, Morelli advocated for an alternative budget that would raise taxes by 3 percent and would prevent any full-time staff positions from being cut or reduced to part time. That proposal would also lower the reduction in contributions to the major nonprofit organizations — Boys and Girls Club of Greater Gardiner, Gardiner Main Street, Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center and Chrysalis Place food pantry — from a 10 percent cut to 5 percent.
The 3 percent tax increase option would only add $14 to the tax bill of the median home over the 2.5 percent increase, he said.
“That’s only a $14 difference in the median tax bill, and you get a lot for that $14,” Morelli said before the meeting.
Mayor Thomas Harnett said he would be comfortable with a 3 percent tax increase for the city’s budget, and he was very troubled by the prospect of cuts to personnel.
Councilor Patricia Hart said she thinks councilors need to have a workshop to set priorities for what they want for services in their city.
“It’s hard work,” she said. “It’s hard to prioritize, and it’s even harder when council hasn’t given clear policy direction.”
Phil Hart, no relation to Patricia, said he agrees with her, and he thinks the council should think about the people on a fix income that can’t afford a tax increase.
“We can’t just find a balance for the people that can afford it. We need to find a balance for the people that can’t,” he said
Proposed cuts also include a $10,000 reduction for books and other materials at Gardiner Public Library, dropping the $7,576 membership to Kennebec Council of Governments, a $8,000 further reduction in the marketing budget and about a 20 percent reduction in funding for stormwater control.
The $5,564,117 city budget originally recommended by Morelli was up 6.2 percent from the current one. Along with the expected budgets for the school and county, it would have caused a 7.5 percent tax increase.
That would raise the current $19.90 per $1,000 of assessed value tax rate to $21.40. That represents a $220 annual tax increase for the median home, valued at roughly $147,000 in Gardiner.
The 3 percent tax increase for the city budget, with the school and county, would mean a $161 tax increase for the median home, Morelli said.
The council must hold two readings and public hearings on the budget before it’s approved.