AUGUSTA — Some positive developments in both projected expenditures and revenue are expected to soften the proposed city and school budget’s effect on taxpayers.

With about a month to go in the budget process, and a public hearing on the proposed $59.7 million budget planned for Thursday night, City Manager William Bridgeo said the net effect of multiple changes in projections since he first proposed the budget “should allow for a significant reduction in the tax rate that I originally proposed.”

He warned the changes are still evolving, and things could shift again in other ways that could have a negative effect.

Bridgeo’s initially proposed budget, released March 31, would increase the property tax rate by 5.23 percent.

Changes in projected expenses and revenue since then, however, add up to nearly $470,000 less in money that would be needed from taxpayers to fund the budget.

Bridgeo declined on Tuesday to speculate about how much the tax rate could decrease because of the changes.

However, a $470,000 decrease in money to come from taxes would equate to a roughly 1.5 percent decrease in the tax rate, which was projected in Bridgeo’s initial budget to be $20.83 per $1,000 of property value. So the tax rate, if the changes hold and no other changes are made to the budget, could decrease from the initial estimate to about $20.50.

The property tax rate is currently $19.79.

The projected changes since the initial budget was proposed include a $300,000 decrease in health insurance costs for school employees, a $40,000 decrease in Augusta’s share of the Kennebec County budget, a potential $58,000 decrease in the city’s increased costs because of a proposed Greater Augusta Utility District stormwater rate increase, and a $110,000 increase in revenue sharing from the state.

Bridgeo said the potential increase in state revenue sharing is based on a recently revised estimate. That figure still could change, in either direction, as the proposed state budget makes its way through the Legislature.

The Greater Augusta Utility District has proposed — but not yet approved — a 15 percent rate increase in stormwater fees, including fees charged to the city for maintaining catch basins. Because the city has more than 2,100 catch basins, each subject to the fee increase, if the rate increase remains at 15 percent, it would cost the city an additional $186,000 next year.

However, Bridgeo has requested, and district trustees are considering, a proposal to phase in the rate increase more gradually. Bridgeo said district trustees are considering changing their plan to increase stormwater rates 10 percent this year and another 10 percent next year. If that change is made, it would lessen the increase to the city of Augusta this year by $58,000.

Those positive budget changes would be offset partially by a plan to add $40,000 in expenses back into the wages budget for part-time parks and cemeteries workers. Bridgeo said the city doesn’t seem to be getting any applicants seeking those part-time jobs with the city advertising pay of $9.50 per hour. Increasing that pay by $1 an hour to try to attract more job applicants, Bridgeo said, would increase the budget by $40,000.

City councilors have held several workshops to examine the budget and are scheduled tentatively to consider voting to adopt the budget at their May 25 meeting.

The public hearing on the budget is scheduled for the council’s 7 p.m. meeting Thursday, in the council chamber at Augusta City Center.

Councilors on Thursday are also scheduled to:

• Consider a controversial proposal to extend the terms of mineral extraction licenses, which include permission to conduct blasting;

• Read a proclamation declaring May 5 to be Jean-Paul Fortin Day;

• Consider authorizing Mayor David Rollins to appoint an ad-hoc committee to study the feasibility of the city taking full or joint ownership of the Togus Pond dam;

• Consider authorizing Bridgeo to contract with a real estate agent to list three tax-acquired properties, at 7 Clark St., 12 Cumberland St. and 8 Maine St., for sale; and

• Consider extending a current moratorium on the establishment of recreational marijuana stores and social clubs, enacted last Dec. 15, for another 180 days.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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