WINSLOW — The Winslow Town Council has signed off on a $25.1 million budget for the coming fiscal year, slightly lower than what it approved in the first reading. Residents are looking at a 3.73% increase in the tax rate.

Monday night marked the first gathering of the council since April 6.

The most recent budget figure, $25,089,660, is $55,677 below the initial figure that unanimously passed at April’s council meeting. It equates to a tax increase from $17.94 to $18.61 per $1,000 of property valuation. The median $146,000 household in Winslow would be required under this proposal to pay $97.82 more than it does currently. At the first reading of the town budget last month, the tax rate was expected to increase to $18.69.

The town is looking at a $1,377,660, or 5.81%, budget increase from last year, which Councilor Ken Fletcher called “one of the biggest increases we’ve had in the last eight years.” To minimize the effect on taxpayers, the council decided to apply $914,000 from the town’s surplus funds in order to offset the increases.

“If we had not applied the surplus balance, the increase would have been 2 mills (instead of 0.67),” Fletcher said.

Staffing increases, insurance and pensions, capital investments and debt service on the sewer bond account for the largest chunks of this year’s budget, Fletcher noted.

Included in the municipal budget is a school budget of $16,275,873, the first reading of which passed on April 22. A public referendum on the school budget is scheduled for June 11. It is up 4.51% from the current school budget.

The council and the School Department expressed mutual gratitude for each other’s efforts to keep budgets as low as possible while still meeting the essential needs of residents.

“You’ve (demonstrated that) you understand that if we cut any more out, we begin to devastate the infrastructure of the schools,” Superintendent Peter Thiboutot told the council Monday. “The (school) board and I appreciate that.”

“For the first time, I think we feel like a team,” Councilor Ray Caron noted, later adding that with a school system that is attracting new residents, “I think we’ve set the groundwork for a future that’s going to be good for the town of Winslow.”

Fletcher, who has been the most vocal councilor to interrogate the School Department’s budget, acknowledged that the path to compromise has been difficult.

“I can be hard at times, but I’ve learned … that there’s such a thing as constructive conflict,” he said. “We all have to challenge ourselves because we are running a business, which is the town, and there are services and things we have to achieve. We always want to have that ability to have constructive conflict, to ask questions and get to the level of detail that (the School Department) has provided, because ultimately this is the council’s budget.”

Thiboutot proposed that, down the line, the School Department work with the Town Council and other members of the community to raise money outside of taxpayer dollars to support the growth of the arts in Winslow and especially the expansion of the high school auditorium. The modified school renovation plan is no longer able to include the auditorium expansion, for budgetary reasons.

“I like that idea,” Fletcher said, noting that while he knows taxpayers probably would have to contribute to the plan in some way, it would be nice to “say we’re being matched and that the community as a whole is providing support.”

 

SEWER

The council unanimously approved raising the sewer rate from $3 to $4.50 per 100 cubic feet, effective July 1. The revenue will go toward supporting operations and capital improvements to the decades-old sewer system. The rate increase also will affect the Vassalboro Sanitary District, which serves 192 residents in a municipality that neighbors Winslow.

Public Works Director Paul Fongemie said that “everywhere we’ve looked, we’ve found problems” with the sewer line and that it will take four to five years to look at the town’s 30-mile system.

The council also passed the first reading of a proposal to spend $28,800 evaluating the Chaffee Brook pump station in order to “mitigate combined sewer overflows into the (Kennebec) river.” There will be a second reading at the council’s next meeting in June.

“It’s 45 years old and we can’t afford for it to fail,” Fongemie told the council. “I’m seeing this as taking the better part of a year to evaluate the pump station and what our line across the river can handle. … Then we can decide how big a bite we want to take. It doesn’t have to be all at once.”

The renovations, which Fongemie acknowledged could be expensive, would be financed at least in part by the money from the increased sewer rate.

 

PUBLIC WORKS

Winslow’s Public Works Department will be the subject of further discussions, with a workshop to discuss streets and roads as well as potential equipment purchases, scheduled for 6 p.m. May 30 at the Town Office.

Councilors authorized, in a 5-1 vote, spending up to $1.2 million to reclaim, grade and repave Benton Avenue from Roderick Road to the Benton town line. The Maine Department of Transportation will provide up to $500,000 for the project. Councilor Jeff West voted against the decision at the second reading Monday. Councilor Benjamin Twitchell was not present.

Fongemie’s request for the erection of a $150,000 storage garage for a Sewer Department truck is one of the items to be discussed in more depth at the May 30 workshop. Fongemie said the building is necessary for the winter housing of a $400,000 camera-equipped inspection truck that the Sewer Department bought last year to help scope out the sewer line. He noted that the price of materials is going to increase over time, especially because the building is steel-covered and the steel market is in flux. Councilors wanted to have more details on the building, including schematics and performance criteria for the structure, before agreeing to commit funds, pointing out that Fongemie had undershot estimates for the building costs last year by as much as $70,000.

“I didn’t really have a plan at the time; that’s on me,” Fongemie said. “I think the busy construction season and the way everything is is driving prices up.”

The remark was particularly familiar to councilors and members of the school board in the audience, who have been working through similar consequences from rising construction costs. While Town Manager Mike Heavener said the Public Works Department had the money to take on the project, Fletcher said that he wanted to wait until the department’s top-priority purchases have been made, as he is not certain they will come in at the costs Fongemie expects. The two purchases in the budget for the coming year are a replacement 1-ton truck, estimated at $65,000; and a replacement bucket for the John Deere, estimated at $7,500.

Fongemie also pitched allocating an additional $16,000 from an unused municipal pot of money to buy a pavement grinder attachment for the sidewalk machine. The attachment would allow the town to repair roads and potholes by grinding and paving them instead of using cold patch.

“It would hold up a lot better,” Fongemie said.

Fongemie and Caron calculated that the equipment would have a four-year payback because the town now rents a similar machine for one month in the summer at a rate of $4,000 per month.

“I’m just concerned that we’re buying pieces before we know whether we have enough money,” Fletcher said.

The pavement grinder attachment also will be discussed further May 30.

 

OTHER BUSINESS

Councilors voted 5-1, with Chairman Steve Russell opposing, to approve immediately the $1.65 million sale of 10.7 town-owned acres, which include part of a building, to Johnny’s Selected Seeds. The company leases the space it is now purchasing at 955 Benton Ave. Fletcher, Heavener and Councilor Jeff West “spent a lot of time” fleshing out the details of the deal. Another tenant will continue to rent space in the building from the town.

Officials also approved the second reading of a labor agreement between Winslow and its full-time police officers’ union. It will be effective from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2022.

The council took its first vote on renewing a two-year contract with the Somerset County Communications Center to answer 911 calls from within its borders. After Somerset County employees answer the calls, they send information to dispatchers in Waterville, who send out the appropriate personnel. Winslow does not have plans to terminate Waterville’s law enforcement dispatch service, though the city announced it probably would increase its rates in the near future.

The council gave preliminary approval to reassign 12 lots bordering Augusta Road from a low-density residential zone to a mixed-use zone to encourage business development. The parcels are on the east side of Augusta Road, between Carter Memorial Drive and Verti Drive. It also passed the first reading of an ordinance to rezone a lot that holds an industrial building that the town plans to sell from mixed use to contract-zoned mixed use. The lot, 18-A on Tax Map 10, abuts Benton Avenue and Heywood Road. Second readings on two other zoning ordinances, including one that legalizes contract-zoned mixed use in the first place, were tabled until next month’s meeting.

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.