Budget season for Gardiner city officials kicks off Wednesday, when the city’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year is distributed to the mayor and the City Council.

This year, the process is expected to span three months, giving councilors more time to understand the individual departments and how those pieces fit into the budget puzzle, Gardiner Mayor Thom Harnett said. The council meets at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Gardiner City Hall, at 6 Church St.

Earlier this year, the city officials met for a goal-setting session.

“One of the things that came out of it is that we directed City Manager Scott Morelli to do everything in his power — and he has many powers, but unfortunately no superpowers — to bring a proposed budget that’s flat as to the city’s portion of the tax bill, and if at all possible, have a reduction,” Harnett said.

The city’s budget includes a portion to fund School Administrative District 11, which is developed by the district’s administration.

“The school district budgets are under the same pressures at the city budgets because of the lack of state funding,” he said. “On the city side, review sharing cuts have crippled municipalities, and what the Legislature and governor have done is shifted the burden from the folks who got tax cuts to the shoulders of property owners, which in Maine is not a sign of wealth.”

Against that unchanged backdrop, Harnett said, the elected officials asked Morelli to do what he could to protect the city’s residents fiscally.

The tax rate in Gardiner now is $21.60 per $1,000 of property valuation, which is among the highest in the state.

A brief presentation of the budget is expected, with the bulk of the work to be done starting in April. Even so, elected officials are expected to consider a wage re-opener agreement with city unions that paves the way for a 2 percent raise for the third year of the existing labor contracts.

If approved, the increase will also be given to all non-union employees, except the city manager.

The existing contracts for police, fire, public works and the general unit, which run through June 30, 2017, called for either no wage increases in year one or provided an increase that was offset by an equivalent dollar amount elsewhere in the contract. They also contained a provision for wage re-openers in year two and three. That means that city officials and union representatives could negotiate what, if any, wage increase the city could provide before the start of the contract year.

A year ago, in the second year of the contract, negotiations resulted in a 2 percent increase.

This year, the same is being proposed; Morelli has included the expected increase, totaling $60,792, in the recommended budget.

The schedule for budget hearings includes:

• April 12, public works and buildings and grounds budgets

• April 27, library, technology, general government, planning and economic development, and community and social services budgets

• May 4, police and fire/ambulance budgets

• May 11, wastewater and TIF budgets; begin budget debate

• May 18, discussion and continued debate on budget; move budget to a first reading

• June 1, public hearing and first reading of the budget

• June 22, public hearing and second and final reading of the budget

The City Council also will consider approving a number of special-event permits, including one for Artwalk Gardiner, and a liquor license renewal for Pasta’z restaurant; and in executive session, it plans to discuss the city manager’s evaluation, economic development coordinator contract negotiations and a request to buy back foreclosed property.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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