GARDINER — A city councilor widely known for frugality has recommended additional spending in the proposed 2018 budget, while another city councilor, who referred to himself as a tax-and-spend liberal, is advocating cutting spending to roll back an expected property tax increase.

At-large City Councilor Jon Ault said he and fellow At-Large City Councilor Tim Cusick reviewed the budget because they are both concerned by the proposed increase to the municipal share of the Gardiner tax bill. As the budget currently stands, it would add 45 cents to the current tax rate of $21.50 per $1,000 valuation.

“The reality is that the budget is very good and very lean and there is very little fat to trim,” Ault said.

But both Ault and Cusick said they feared that assessments for Gardiner area schools and Kennebec County would push that increase up over $1, and that’s too much for Gardiner residents to pay.

They are advocating cutting $87,000 from the proposed $5,016,608 budget, rolling back the city’s share of the increase to 20 cents.

On their list were delaying buying an excavator for Public Works and a sport utility vehicle for the Police Department, switching iPads for Chromebooks for the City Council, eliminating funding for the proposed broadband internet study, eliminating tabletop microphone for the meetings held in the City Council chamber, moving away from livestreaming meetings in favor of posting them on Youtube, and rolling back the support of Johnson Hall from $25,000 to $20,000 because city officials have committed to making a $150,000 challenge gift for its capital campaign.

Ault said his list included projects he has worked on and supported, including Johnson Hall and the broadband study, which is intended to help Gardiner improve its internet service.

Mayor Thom Harnett said the practice of the City Council has been to recommend dollar amounts to change the budget, leaving the mechanics of change to the city’s department heads.

“That’s a great idea to let them do it,” Cusick said. “I would not vote to support the budget because of the tax increase and I think we need to cut $87,000 from it.”

At the same time, District 4 City Councilor Philip Hart advocated taking a little more than $30,000 from the city’s fund balance — which will have no impact on the tax rate — to outfit the city’s front-line police vehicles with the safety equipment they need including rifles, and buy an additional vehicle.

Hart, who is the council’s longest-serving member, said times have changed, and he’s concerned with the safety of Gardiner’s police officers and residents.

“This is the first budget I have ever dealt with when I have wanted to add anything,” Hart said. “But after talking to (Chief) Jim (Toman), and seeing what he’s been up against, I don’t want an officer to get some place and all he’s got is a pistol against a guy with a rifle. If we’re going to have a police department to protect us, we need to get them their equipment we have to stop putting things off. I look at this stuff as life-safety issues. There are things in other departments that break down and we can get by without it until we can get it fixed.”

Toman said the city has been frugal when it has acquired and outfitted police cars.

“We do not have patrol rifles and laptops in every single vehicle,” Toman said. “We have three vehicles (of six) with patrol rifles at any one time.”

The City Council voted to direct the city’s staff to bring back a budget that is $87,000 less to the next round of debate, scheduled to take place at the May 3 meeting.

Elected officials voted 6-2, with Cusick and Ault voting in opposition to include funding for the police car and equipment.

The proposed fiscal year 2018 budget was released March 1. The proposed $5 million budget reflects a 5 percent increase over the current year. The city’s capital budget at $676,267 reflects nearly a 44 percent decrease in spending, Combined, they total a $5,692,875 spending plan proposed for the year.

Even with the proposed increase, nearly half of Gardiner’s homeowners would get a property tax reduction in the municipal portion of their tax bills on the city’s portion as they did last year.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ


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