The Winslow Town Council plans a first reading of the 2021-22 budget at its April 12 meeting with councilors aligning in support following a several budget hearings.

A budgeted $2 tax rate increase is expected to allow the town to replenish fund balances to improve its bond rating, avoid another large mill rate increase next year and strike a balance between providing services to residents without depleting town savings.

Peter Drapeau Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

“All of us looked the budget over for past performance and evaluated what we had to do moving forward,” said Peter Drapeau, a first-year councilor who represents District 1. “Under this budget and everything hashed out, we can assume that we’re going to get us to a bond figure that gets us up two more ratings so we can buy bonds at a better rate.”

The $26,595,924 million municipal budget increases the property tax rate from $18.82 to $20.82 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, or two mills. For example, the average home in Winslow costs $153,000, so the average increase is $306, from $2,879 to $3,185.

The Town Council informally decided at a budget workshop that this would be the proposed budget read during council meetings on April 12 and May 10.

During budget hearings, the council voted 6-1 to approve the tax rate increase, with longtime District 4 Councilor and Chairperson Ray Caron initially voting against the increase. He eventually aligned with fellow councilors and town administration to back the budget.

“There’s no question that two mills is where we need to be, and in the future we need to have incremental increases every year for some extent for cost of living and those types of things,” Caron said. “It’s so we can maintain a healthy infrastructure and business needs in the future.”

Ray Caron

A major reason for the tax rate increase is that the town has been using fund balance, or savings, to complete the budget. In essence, the town has operated in a deficit the last half-decade. The town also used one-time revenues in its yearly budgets. This year’s budget still includes $900,000 of one-time revenue from the sale of the Orion Ropeworks portion of a town-owned industrial building.

Using fund balance dinged the town’s bond rating to unfavorable status. Replenishing fund balances should make bond ratings favorable again.

“We’re in a very unfortunate position, and those of us who are new are trying to fix wrongs that have gone on in the past so we don’t end up in this situation again,” first-year Winslow Town Manager Erica LaCroix said. “The reason that we go this way is one, if we don’t do it now, we risk having an increase just as big next year.”

Erica LaCroix Photo courtesy of Erica LaCroix

A $1.60 increase to the tax rate would add over $1 million to the budget, but it would only cover deficits for the next year, according to officials. An increase of $2 to the tax rate creates more leverage for future budgets, which include capital costs that were deferred from this year to next. Capital costs included reducing paving capital to $300,000. The plan is to return to the normal $500,000 amount for paving in next year’s budget. There will be incremental tax rate increases. Roads and facilities are among the infrastructure in Winslow that need updates. Fire, public works and school contracts also are all under negotiation.

“If you look areawide, we provide more services than most of the surrounding towns, and we are still under several of those mill rates,” at-large councilor Jeff West said. “We’re trying to set ourselves up ahead of time so we don’t have to do large increases year over year.”

None of the increase is due to the town’s new ambulance service. The service added $149,000 in revenue while paying for the cost of the service.

The council is evaluating options to explore a small committee to create a five-year financial plan moving forward.

“We’re not going to react in Winslow, we’re going to be progressive,” Drapeau said. “I understand this isn’t going to be a hit with the public, but if they want to ask questions or come see us, we’ll be glad to talk to them and tell them that there was no choice.”

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