GARDINER — Residents will have their first opportunity this week to weigh in on the city’s proposed reduced spending plan when the City Council holds a budget public hearing on Wednesday.

That revised proposal scales back a proposed 60-cent increase in Gardiner’s property tax rate to 10 cents and keeps intact both plans to pave some sections of city streets and to extend the weekend coverage of the Gardiner Fire Department staffing for the ambulance service from July through mid-October by using additional fund balance.

Under the original proposal, city officials were seeking to spend $6,654,205 in the upcoming budget year, a nearly 5% increase over the current year. That was projected to add an estimated 60 cents to Gardiner’s property tax rate of $21.70 per $1,000 of property value for the city’s share of the tax bill.

But city councilors said they wanted to see the impact on property taxes reduced in the face of expected increases in both the Kennebec County government and Gardiner-area school district spending plans. Anne Davis, acting city manager, brought two scenarios back to councilors, one that would cut the projected impact on the property tax rate to an estimated 30 cents, and one that eliminated any impact at all.

“We don’t have much fluff any longer in the budget or wish lists,” Davis said. “We’re long past that.”

In the first, city officials made adjustments, both up and down, to reach the target, including factoring in both more excise tax and fund balance to pay for spending priorities, and reducing spending through delaying setting aside money targeted to pay for a future revaluation, some turnout gear for the Gardiner Fire Department, and cutting money for crack sealing city streets. It would preserve funds for both paving and money to pay overtime for Gardiner firefighter-EMTs to staff the Richmond Fire Station on weekends from July to mid-October.

The second scenario would remove the Fire Department overtime as well as some equipment, upgrades to the city’s communication tower and material subscriptions for the Gardiner Public Library while adding even more fund balance to the mix.

“I find it really interesting — and this is not a criticism — that the City Council thinks it’s our job to compensate for what the school district does,” District 1 City Councilor Terry Berry said. “I don’t think that’s the right way to think about it.”

Berry said it’s fantasy for city councilors to think they are living in a world that’s not subject to increases in costs. They should instead consider what’s a palatable increase.

“We don’t have a flat budget,” Mayor Patricia Hart said.

As proposed, the spending plan is in fact larger than last year’s, Hart said, but so is the revenue that will be used to pay for it, not all of which will come from property taxes.

Earlier in the budget process, Davis advocated for city councilors to include funding for paving in Gardiner, as the city’s streets continue to deteriorate over time without a paving plan in place.

At-large City Councilor MaryAnn White offered up a different scenario, one that follows the leaner scenario but preserves the expanded fire department service staffing for the summer and fall and the paving plan and uses additional fund balance. As she calculated it, the impact on the city’s portion of the property tax rate would be 10 cents.

While city councilors use the property tax rate as a benchmark in discussing spending proposals, it’s too soon to know what that might be. The property tax rate is determined after all spending plans have been approved and the city’s annual valuation is completed.

The first of two public hearings on the budget is scheduled for Wednesday’s meeting, which is scheduled to take place via Zoom. A copy of the agenda is available on the city’s website, www.gardinermaine.com. The meeting will also be live-streamed on the city of Gardiner’s Facebook page.

 

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