GARDINER — Residents have their last chance to voice opinions about next year’s proposed municipal budget at tonight’s City Council meeting, but it’s unlikely the budget, which calls for no tax increase, will draw much ire.

City Manager Scott Morelli said he expects councilors to approve the budget at their meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

The budget, including the school and county, totals $8.77 million.

Although the proposal calls for flat taxes, cuts to municipal revenue sharing in the state budget approved last month forced the city to choose between additional cuts and raising taxes.

To avoid raising taxes, councilors directed city staff to find an additional $185,000 in cuts and savings after some residents at the June 12 council meeting urged councilors to reject Morelli’s recommendation of increasing the tax rate by 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

Morelli’s original proposal before the revenue sharing cuts didn’t call for a tax increase.

The largest additional cuts being proposed will come from eliminating some of the road paving budget, no longer funding a part-time librarian for the Boys & Girls Club and not funding the purchase of new air packs for the fire department.

The tax increase would have brought the property tax rate above the $20 per $1,000 of assessed value mark — something councilors and city staff have avoided because of a concern it could prevent people from moving to Gardiner.

Gardiner’s tax rate is $19.90 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Some councilors objected to raising taxes because they already planned on taking $175,000 from the city’s fund balance in Morelli’s original proposal to prevent the budget from increasing the tax rate.

“You always want to keep taxes flat if you can, especially where we’re a little out of whack with our peer communities,” Morelli said. “We want to get closer to where they’re at, and definitely, with this budget, we’re going to get real close.”

He said the city avoided a tax increase and major cuts to services in the budget, but budget discussions next year will likely be more difficult.

The city could be facing a budget gap approaching $600,000 in fiscal year 2015 if it doesn’t get additional funding from the state or increase its revenue base through development.

“It will either be major service cuts, a major tax increase or a combination of both,” Morelli said. “Unless some of the things like revenue sharing get put back.”

The budget will go into effect 10 days after the council approves it. The city has been operating on a continuing resolution since July 1, the start of its fiscal year, funded at the levels in the proposed budget.

The agenda for tonight’s meeting also includes public hearings for liquor license renewals for Canton Village Chinese Restaurant and The Bench Sports Bar & Grill, and the first reading of the 2013/2014 general assistance ordinance.

Morelli said he doesn’t expect any objections during any of the public hearings. He said the change to the general assistance ordinance is something the city does every year to meet state standards.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663
[email protected]

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