GARDINER — Officials in Gardiner are revising the city’s proposed $6.5 million spending plan after city councilors said Wednesday that taxpayers cannot afford it.

The city’s draft spending plan would add 60 cents to the property tax rate, but with school district and county government spending proposals, which also appear on the property tax bills the city issues, the total impact would be $1.25 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

“That’s a lot of money to raise taxes all at once,” At-large City Councilor Tim Cusick said. “Over the last couple of years, we have handed out very good raises for our employees, we’ve bought new equipment, we’ve bought new ambulances, new dump trucks, a new cruiser.

“Maybe we have to go a year, if we don’t have money, where we can’t go buy anything. We’re spending other people’s money.”

For the past three weeks, city councilors have heard budget reviews across all city departments, including requests for new equipment, special projects and capital improvements. Those requests are in addition to wages and benefits that make up more than half the city’s operating budget.

On Wednesday, Acting City Manager Anne Davis said she would bring back a revised spending plan for elected officials to review in early June.

“I have never had a budget season where there are so many variables surrounding both expenses and revenues,” she said. “And we haven’t even talked about the American Recovery Act.”

The American Recovery Act is a package of federal funding that includes money for cities, towns and counties that had not received assistance in prior COVID-19 relief packages. It is not likely that money could be used to reduce property taxes.

Davis cautioned city councilors that even if all spending could be rolled back to current levels, the property tax rate in Gardiner would still increase because of increases in the spending plans of both the Gardiner-area school district and Kennebec County government.

“Our budget is quite a lean budget in comparison to the two agencies that we have no control over,” Davis said.

Since 2016, the property tax rate in Gardiner, now $21.70 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, has increased by 10 cents.

“We’ve done a really good job holding the line on taxes,” Mayor Patricia Hart said, “and it seems like this is a year to continue that. It’s going to be a hard year.”

Davis repeated her request for input on paving in Gardiner. When she presented the draft budget for review in April, she highlighted paving city streets as a priority, and it remains a concern. She said councilors could either add money to the budget or borrow it.

“In my opinion,” Davis said during an earlier review of the Gardiner Public Works spending requests, “we don’t have a paving plan. We have a reaction-to-paving plan. We have a lot of roads that need work.”

Several years ago, city officials approved borrowing almost $1 million for paving projects and embarking on road work. But, Davis said, that money has been spent, and the city has no consistent budget for paving.

Adding the $350,000 requested for projects would add 60 cents to the property tax rate, she said. The other option is borrowing the money again.

District 2 City Councilor Amy Rees has said she does not favor borrowing money for paving, adding it should be built into the city’s annual spending plans.

If state lawmakers approve restoring state revenue sharing retroactively to its statutory 5%, she said the money could be used for paving. If not, the city could borrow.

Under the budget timeline, the first public hearing on the budget was scheduled for June 2, but that will now change. Davis said the City Council will have a revised budget proposal to consider June 2, and public hearings are scheduled for June 9 and 16.

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