GARDINER — An early review of Gardiner’s proposed municipal budget for the upcoming fiscal year indicates that taxes may go up by just over 2 percent.

But an expansion of the statewide homestead exemption means that homeowners enrolled in that program will get a reduced tax bill for the second year in a row. Commercial property owners are expected to see an average increase of $45, and non-homestead residential taxpayers would see an average increase of $79.

City Manager Scott Morelli gave an overview of his recommended budget to elected officials Wednesday, nearly an entire month earlier than he has in the past. Morelli’s last day with the city of Gardiner was Friday; he accepted the city manager’s position with the city of South Portland and starts next week.

Because of the early recommendation, Morelli said the budget is based partly on assumptions. It’s too early to know what Gardiner’s state revenue sharing total will be, and it’s too soon to know whether Gardiner’s partner communities will continue their support of the Gardiner Public Library and the Gardiner Ambulance services. Assessments for Kennebec County government and School Administrative District 11 are also not yet known.

As it now stands, Gardiner’s tax rate is $21.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

“Last year was a banner year,” Morelli said. “We were able to cut taxes and invest in community projects, and we were able to pay for them using one-time funds so we were able to avoid debt in future years.”

The proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year is not nearly as exciting, he said, but there are four key elements to highlight. It includes a pay increase for all employees to get them closer to the median pay for similar communities, funding for additional property tax relief for seniors and an expansion of the sewer discount program, funding for a broadband study and the second straight year of a property tax reduction for nearly half of the city’s residents.

“Even though we have the second highest tax rate in Kennebec County, you have to look at a snippet of recent history to see how you compare with your peer groups,” he said.

He compared the change in Gardiner’s municipal tax rate between 2012 and 2016 to a number of measures and found that for the same period, it was less than the rate of increase of the consumer price index as well as the tax rate increases of most Kennebec County municipalities, most similarly sized communities, all service centers, service centers that are about the same size as Gardiner, and in all communities that abut Gardiner.

“It’s good news all around,” he said.

Compared to the current budget, spending proposed for most city departments is up only a few percent, but in Public Works, projected spending for both Buildings and Grounds and the Highway budget is slated to decrease by 9.9 percent and 16.2 percent respectively, thanks to one-time purchases in the current budget year, and in technology, projected spending is slated to decrease by 13.2 percent.

Morelli said not all requests were funded. “They never ask for anything outlandish,” he said.

“I thank you for getting this together before you leave,” District 4 City Councilor Philip Hart said. “Do we have a backup if there’s a revenue problem?”

Morelli said the only main concern is where the revenue sharing will come in. If it’s less than expected, city Finance Director Denise Brown and interim City Manager Anne Davis will revise the budget to compensate for that.

As it now stands, here’s the schedule for the Gardiner budget season:

• March 15: discussion of the police and fire/ambulance budget requests;

• April 5: discussion of the Gardiner Public Library, technology, general government, planning and economic development and wastewater budget requests;

• April 12: discussion of Public Works, Buildings and Grounds and community services budget requests;

• April 19: public hearing, debate and discussion of the budget;

• May 3: continued discussion and debate on the budget;

• May 17: public hearing and first read of the budget;

• June 7: public hearing and second and final read of the budget.

The Gardiner City Council meets at 6 p.m. on Wednesdays at City Hall at 6 Church St. The meetings are also live streamed on the city’s website, gardinermaine.com, and can be viewed on demand.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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