A down payment on a new fire station, pay increases for town employees and steeper state retirement costs are among the items in a $7.1 million budget that has been proposed for Winthrop taxpayers in the 2016-2017 fiscal year.

Drafted by Town Manager Peter Nielsen, that budget is headed to the seven-member Town Council for consideration over the next two months. As proposed, it represents a 6.3 percent increase from the current year’s municipal budget of $6.7 million.

Nielsen’s proposal does not include the town’s school budget, which is drafted by the school board and presented separately to the Town Council for final approval.

The council will begin considering the town budget in public workshops tentatively scheduled for later this month. The dates of those workshops have not been finalized.

According to Nielsen, his proposal would cause town property taxes to rise from $15.28 per $1,000 of valuation this year to $15.68 per $1,000 next year, a 2.6 percent increase.

“I call it a plain vanilla budget,” said Nielsen, a longtime Winthrop resident who was hired last spring after serving as Town Manager in Clinton, Wayne, Wilton and Oakland over a period of 25 years. This is his first time working on the Winthrop town budget.

“We are very aware of the tax situation,” he added. “All of the conversation that we’ve had is exclusive of what the School Department determines are its priorities.”

Last December, the council instructed Nielsen to draft a town budget that has either no increase from the current year or a small increase, he said.

One of the biggest areas of growth in his proposed budget is capital improvements. The town raised $260,804 for this year’s improvements, just $159,465 of which was spent. Nielsen has recommended raising $447,046 for capital improvements next year, contributing to the costs of a new police cruiser, a pickup truck and a skid steer loader, among other items.

The largest proposed capital improvement cost is $127,000, which would be the first down payment on a loan for a $2 million fire station. That loan would be repaid over 25 years, Nielsen said. If the council approves that spending, he projects construction of the fire station would begin in 2017.

Given that a fire station could last 50 years, Nielsen called his proposal a “conservative” investment.

The biggest spending increase in Nielsen’s budget proposal is $155,000 to be paid into the state’s retirement system. That’s up considerably from the $11,520 the town raised for the retirement system in the 2015-2016 budget. “That’s a pretty big piece of our problem,” Nielsen said. “That’s a big nut.”

While the town got a refund of more than $400,000 from the retirement system last summer, it ended up having to pay $80,000 back into the system later in the year, Nielsen said. He has proposed the large amount this year so money is available upfront for any similar situations.

Town Finance Director Melody Main will talk more about the retirement costs at one of the council’s budget workshops, Nielsen said.

Many town employees are getting a 2 percent pay increase in the proposed budget, and an additional $25,000 already has been approved for the salaries of the town’s department heads, Nielsen said.

He has recommended raising $610,368 for county taxes, which are up from the $585,268 raised this year.

Besides approving a town budget in May and June, the Town Council also will consider a school budget drafted by the school board. The current year’s school budget is $10.8 million. Superintendent Gary Rosenthal said he will be putting together a rough draft of the budget proposal next week and expects a slight increase, but he couldn’t offer a specific number.

“We have been made aware by the Town Council that they have some expenditures that will raise the budget,” Rosenthal said. “We will be working very hard, as we always are, to make sure that our budget is as efficient as it can be.”

The School Department has a strategic plan that informs all spending decisions, Rosenthal explained. Because of rising enrollment at the town’s schools, he said the district has had to hire several new teachers. The district will be buying new uniforms, according to what’s stipulated in that strategic plan, Rosenthal said.

It also will be expanding the district’s foreign-language offerings, buying new hardware and software and performing maintenance on the town’s school buildings. Health insurance costs also will be rising, he said.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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