GARDINER — Between now and the final vote on the Gardiner city budget in June, elected officials have decisions to make on spending priorities for the upcoming year.

At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, elected officials weighed the effect of making a range of specific proposed cuts and delays.

After extended debate, the City Council reached a compromise that would cut the expected property tax rate by 45 cents, to $22.20 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

During the public hearing, City Manager Christine Landes presented to options for cuts to the city’s spending plan after elected officials asked to see several scenarios of what a reduced budget would look like.

“It was a bare-bones budget before,” Landes said. “Now it’s down to the skeleton.”

Before those cuts, Gardiner’s proposed spending plan totaled $6.5 million. With the proposed budgets for both the Gardiner area school district and Kennebec County taking shape, it appears that Gardiner could have a property tax of rate of $22.65 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, up $1.25 per $1,000 from the current $21.40 per $1.000 of assessed valuation.


The first option would cut $119,426, paring 35 cents from the expected property tax rate;and one would cut about $233,000, or 65 cents.

The first scenario features a range of trimmed administrative expenses such as membership in the Mayors Coalition, advertising, and requests for $8,500 in donations to nonprofit agencies. It also includes delaying for a year half the proposed increase to the salary of the public works director and delaying filling some vacancies in the city.

The second scenario includes delaying hiring a safety officer in the Police Department, leasing a cruiser for the Police Department rather than buying one, delaying hiring a safety offer for a year, delaying buying of a street sweeper and delaying spending $27,000 on the bridge betterment project, which is tied to the Maine Department of Transportation’s bridge replacement project that’s currently underway in Gardiner.

Several Gardiner residents spoke up in support of the budget.

Phil Hart, a former longtime Gardiner city councilor, said he was coming to speak for the people who cant afford an increase in their property taxes.

“They won’t come forward and advocate for themselves,” Hart said. “I don’t want my taxes go to up. The only thing I am going to ask is that if you need this stuff, why not do it now?”


Several years ago, he successfully advocated to add about $30,000 to the budget to make sure the city’s Police Department received the equipment it needed.

Debby Willis, who chairs the Planning Board and the Ordinance Review Committee, said she supports the budget because she wants the services that the city provides. But she said she didn’t support cutting the funding allocation for the services of Mark Eyerman, the city’s contract planner.

Logan Johnston, who is also a former city councilor, asked the elected officials to consider the progress that Gardiner has made in the last several years, and the need for some of the spending that they may decide to cut or delay for a year.

“I support the compromise of the 35-cent decrease, but I would prefer maintaining full funding for a planner,” Johnston said.

He also advocated not delaying the city’s bridge betterment project, saying a delay would only increase the price of the project.

Mayor Patricia Hart said councilors have several options such as cutting services — which was not discussed — cutting spending or refinancing debt.


After the public hearing, elected officials opted not to pursue refinancing of bonds, which would increase interest payments over time.

Instead, they came to a compromise that among other things, restored full funding for the contract planner, particularly since the city’s economic and planning director recently resigned; allocates an additional $5,000 for Gardiner Main Street; and preserves funding for volunteer training, as well as preserving reduced funding in the city’s tree account. The compromise also delays paying for the bridge betterment project and delays buying a street sweeper a year.

City officials considered their priorities for the upcoming year while knowing that they can change only a small portion of the added spending in the proposed budget. The bulk of that comes from negotiated pay raises for members of the city’s unions or from factors outside the city’s control, such as the increased cost of public safety dispatch services and workers’ compensation rate increases.

Councilors acknowledged that the budget for the fiscal year that starts a year from July 1 also will carry with it the same kind of increases that they contemplated this year, such as negotiated pay raises and expected increases in health insurance.

The budget goes to a public hearing and first reading June 5. A second public hearing and second and final reading of the budget are scheduled for June 19.

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

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