GARDINER — Now that city elected officials have completed their initial review of the Gardiner’s proposed spending plan, they are starting to consider the city’s spending priorities for the next fiscal year.

At Monday’s budget workshop, City Manager Christine Landes reviewed proposed allocations for community and social services groups, wages and benefits, expected revenue, the tax increment financing budgets and the ambulance and wastewater treatment accounts, which as enterprise funds are self-sustaining from the revenue they generate from users and have no effect on the city’s tax rate.

As proposed, the $6.35 million spending plan is nearly 5 percent higher than the current year’s budget.

This spending is projected to be paid for through a combination of a variety of revenue sources, including property tax revenue of about $3.2 million and reimbursement from the state on the expanded homestead exemption totaling $323,000. Additional revenue, totaling just over $2 million, includes $1.1 million in excise tax collected on vehicles registered in Gardiner, $225,000 of money set aside in the city’s fund balance, $111,000 in library aid, and $100,000 in investment earnings. State revenue sharing is expected to be about $530,000.

Landes stressed that the bulk of the increases comes from factors that city councilors cannot change, including workers’ compensation rate increases, the increased cost of public safety dispatching through the state’s Regional Communications Center in Augusta, as well as benefits and negotiated pay raises for city employees.

Because the meeting was a workshop, the city councilors didn’t debate the spending proposal, but they asked several questions.

“So we’re talking a 60-cent increase to the mil rate as it stands right now?” At-large Councilor Tim Cusick said. “We reduced 60 cents last year, so we’re going back 60 cents, and it doesn’t include what the county and the schools are doing.”

“That’s right,” Landes said.

For District 1 Councilor Terry Berry, the budget as proposed presents some challenges.

“The way I look at it is we have about 73 percent of our budget that we can literally do nothing about, so in the whole budget, we really don’t have a lot we can pick from,” Berry said. “I think we’ve got to get a little creative and think outside the box if we want to go from, let’s say, a 60-cent increase to, let’s say, (where) our collective goal becomes a 30-cent increase or a 45-cent increase.”

Among the costs in the budgets is debt service on the city’s tax increment financing districts. Berry asked if some of that debt could be refinanced to reduce what needs to be paid out in the next fiscal year. He said he’s not necessarily advocating that, but it’s worth considering.

“We have so little to debate about,” he said.

“Outside a level of service review sort of questions, ” At-large City Councilor Jon Ault said.

“We could say we’re going to reduce staff, or reduce this or that, which I am not advocating, either,” Berry said.

Looking ahead to the 2021 budget year, Landes said the projected increase for that year is nearly $250,000, reflecting continued increases to pay for cost-of-living increases and union negotiations, anticipated increases in property and casualty insurance, health insurance costs, workers’ compensation and pensions, as well as increases in fuel costs. She said fund balance would not be used in that budget year, but at the same time, state revenue sharing is proposed to increase.

The City Council is expected to take up the budget again in meetings in May and June for public comment and debate. Here’s the schedule:

• May 8: public hearing, discussion and debate

• May 22: public hearing, discussion and debate

• June 5: public hearing and first reading

• June 19: second and final reading

All the meetings are expected to start at 6 p.m.

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