As Winthrop officials begin preparing a budget for the next fiscal year, they will be weighing the merits and cost-effectiveness of several infrastructure projects that have been in the works for some time.

Those projects include upgrades to Memorial Drive, improvements at the town beach, a new firehouse and a repair of the Maranacook Lake Dam that’s being funded in conjunction with Readfield taxpayers.

Casting a shadow over this year’s budget process is a funding shortfall that was discovered in the budget of the Winthrop School District late last summer and that has left the district with at least $700,000 less than it thought it had.

Town Manager Peter Nielsen, who will draft the municipal budget, also said he’s hoping to generate more consensus among the seven members of the Town Council with his proposal for next year’s spending.

Last summer, the council narrowly approved the current year’s $6.28 million budget in a 4-3 vote. That budget was up 6 percent from the 2015-2016 budget of $5.94 million and included pay increases for a number of town department heads — a $21,307 provision that drew fire from at least one councilor.

At the same time, the council also approved an $11.22 million school budget for this year, up 4 percent from the previous year’s budget of $10.82 million.

The same people sit on the Town Council this year, and at a regularly scheduled meeting last week, Nielsen listed off some of the infrastructure projects that are in the works and asked councilors for guidance as he begins crafting a 2017-2018 budget.

Besides offering their thoughts about the merits of different projects, councilors encouraged Nielsen to ensure that any increase in the town’s tax rate is minimal in the proposed budget.

The town has acquired two properties opposite Bailey Public Library and is considering tearing them down to create a public parking lot, but when Nielsen mentioned that project, Councilor Richard Henry said he thought any projects that aren’t mandatory should be put on the back burner.

When Nielsen mentioned re-paving Memorial Drive, which runs up the east side of the Maranacook Lake, councilors told him they do not want a band-aid solution that is less expensive in the short run, but ultimately doesn’t hold up. Councilor Priscilla Jenkins suggested that the project could be done in phases — a suggestion that Nielsen later said was valuable.

As she did last year, Town Councilor Linda Caprara said she would not support raises for some of the town’s department heads, but added the town should fulfill any collective bargaining agreements.

On Friday, Nielsen said that it was hard for him to forecast what his final budget recommendations will look like. He also stressed that he will be returning to the council for advice as the process moves along.

“The guidance we got the other night is helpful but not the last word,” Nielsen said. “Its a collaborative process.”

In December, councilors also signaled some support for building a new fire station — a project that has been in the works for many years — by authorizing Nielsen to seek bids for the work. A private donor is prepared to provide $450,000 for that project, but three councilors voted against seeking bids. One of them, Linda MacDonald, cited the ongoing difficulties with the school budget.

“I’ve got a couple of very telling votes there,” Nielsen said a few days later, referring to the 4-3 votes for the fire station bids and for last year’s budget.

Though Nielsen agreed that the school funding shortfall would create added challenges this year, he also suggested they were not insurmountable.

“That’s going to be a difficult process this year,” said Nielsen, who has managed several area towns and was hired by Winthrop in May 2015. “But I’m not sure I can remember a year that wasn’t difficult.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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