HALLOWELL — Property taxpayers will see no change in the tax rate this fiscal year, after city councilors approved the municipal budget Monday.

The rate will stay flat after councilors opted to use tax-increment financing revenue to absorb some increases in funding.

Also Monday, the council approved an extension to the emergency moratorium on retail marijuana establishments. City Manager Nate Rudy said he hoped it would be the last moratorium on retail pot the city must make.

The budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 includes $5,856,582 in expenditures and $753,854 in revenue; the difference will be raised through property taxes. The expense side of the budget included some changes floated last month by the council’s finance subcommittee, which covered $20,000 in funding with TIF revenue.

Rudy said Tuesday $2.4 million of the budget is for municipal operating expenses. The other $3.4 million includes the school budget and county taxes.

The biggest change is a $30,000 increase in city funding for Hubbard Free Library for operating costs and “strategic planning,” on top of a long-standing $27,000 budget line. Half of the increase is included in the general fund paid through property taxes, and half will be drawn from TIF funds.

At the council’s July 9 meeting, support for increased library funding was met with applause from attendees. While Hubbard trustees were pleased to see increased funding, they asked the council for $18,000 more to offset a operating budget deficit in June.

“The additional funds will be a great help to the Hubbard going forward, and we appreciate the City Council’s efforts and vote to support our Second Street jewel,” Board of Trustees President Ken Young said in a statement published on the library’s website in July. “Filling the $18,000 deficit will be very challenging. While the deficit is considerably smaller than it might have been without the city’s help, finding this extra revenue will require us all to think creatively about how to work together to keep the Hubbard’s red doors open.”

Ultimately, councilors decided against increasing the amount by the additional $18,000, and the budget contains $57,000 for the library.

Though the increase was cheered by some in attendance at July’s meeting, Councilor Lisa Harvey-McPherson said her constituents told her they did not support an increase of funding at the library.

“We should not be underwriting financial losses for a private, not-for-profit organization with an independent board and an existing endowment,” she said. “I don’t think that’s the council’s role.”

The council approved the final reading of the expenditure budget 4-1, with Harvey-McPherson opposed because she didn’t support the increase as “a matter of policy.” Councilors Maureen AuCoin and Diano Circo were absent. The final reading of the revenue budget was approved unanimously.

Another increase gives $5,000 to the Hallowell Police Department to offset the cost of an additional patrol officer on busy nights, handling complaints around the businesses on Water Street. Councilors supported identifying businesses that require extra patrol and charging them an impact fee, but the structure of that fee was not finalized.

The budget was adopted more than a month after the start of the fiscal year, but Rudy said no “disservice” was done to the city because of the delay. He said during Monday’s meeting that city saved money through insurance plans for union workers and the saving was redistributed through raises in salary “in a targeted manner.”

“We produced a final budget in August last year,” he said Tuesday. “The third reading was delayed by the union negotiations. I don’t think there has been a disservice done to the town by finishing the process in August.”

If councilors had chosen to use property taxes to offset the increased spending, it would have increased the tax rate by less than 0.1 percent. However, they favored using TIF funds to keep the tax rate steady at $19.70 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

Tax due dates were set at Sept. 4 and March 1. An 8 percent interest rate, up one percentage point from last fiscal year, was confirmed; interest starts accruing on late taxes on Sept. 17 and March 4.

RETAIL MARIJUANA MORATORIUM

Councilors also extended the emergency moratorium on retail marijuana shops and social clubs by 180 days. They suspended rules that require three days of readings on an ordinance to push it through.

“The cannabis task force is preparing final draft ordinance language,” Rudy said. “I hope this is the last time we will have to do a moratorium on retail or medical cannabis.”

The task force is an ad hoc committee of citizens and city officials appointed by Mayor Mark Walker. The first reading of the draft ordinance, Rudy said, probably would occur at the Sept. 10 City Council meeting. The 180-day moratorium allows the council and committee ample time to finalize the ordinance, he said.

The city has no existing ordinance in place to regulate retail marijuana, which allowed the council to declare this an “emergency.” The emergency declaration says the council “needs time to study Retail Marijuana Establishments and Retail Marijuana Stores and Retail Marijuana Social Clubs and enact ordinances that balance the rights of all.”

The moratorium, approved unanimously by the council, took effect immediately.

The state has not finalized legislation to allow licensing for retail pot shops. Changes were made to the bill earlier this month and lawmakers said a final version will be delivered to lawmakers “fairly soon.”

Sam Shepherd — 621-5666

[email protected]

Twitter: @SamShepME

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