GARDINER — As city officials dig into the proposed spending plan for the upcoming budget year, they are hoping to hear from city residents.

The city’s spending plan, released earlier this month, totals $7.35 million, or about $500,000 more than the $6.6 million that was approved a year ago.

It’s too soon to know what the final property tax bills for Gardiner homeowners would be, as the Gardiner-area school district and Kennebec County have not completed their budgets yet.

The budget as proposed would add 80 cents to the city’s property tax rate, bringing it from the current $21.70 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $22.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. That would add $117.73 to the annual property tax bill for a home in Gardiner with the median value of $146,000.

But using the assessments for the school district and county government as approved a year ago as an estimate, the total property tax rate could be $23.10 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, adding $205.32 to the annual property tax bill for a median value home.

“I propose we let the public in next week and let them know that they will be able to speak,” Mayor Patricia Hart said. “Otherwise, when we do the formal public hearing, it’s already pretty much a done deal.”

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Denise Brown, interim finance director for the city, said city officials have held the property tax rate in Gardiner at $21.70 for three years, following a tax cut the year before that.

“We are still below the FY 18 tax rate,” Brown said; in that year it was $22.

Over the last five years, she said, the consumer price index has increased by nearly 11%; compared to the increase in the cost of living, the city’s tax rate has increased only about 1%.

At the same time, the city has added value, so while the tax rate has remained the same, more money has been collected.

Built into the budget proposal is the addition of four firefighter-paramedics to bolster the response from the Gardiner Fire Department. They are also expected to extend the Gardiner Ambulance Service, which is staffed by Gardiner’s firefighters and paid for jointly by the communities it serves and by users, with a fly car. A fly car is a fast-response vehicle that can provide emergency medical services, but doesn’t generally transport patients.

The spending plan also includes a 40% increase in what city departments across the board expect to pay for fuel in the upcoming year because of increased prices.

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And it reflects wage increases negotiated in union contracts, planned spending on technology and $35,000 for paving.

City officials would like to set aside $90,000 to start saving for an expected revaluation in the next few years.

The spending plan also reflects savings in a number of areas, including a $30,000 decrease in workers compensation costs, and lower expected spending in legal services as no union contracts will be negotiated during the year.

To pay for that spending, city officials will use several sources of revenue. In addition to property taxes and license and permit fees, Gardiner is using $2 million in state revenue sharing and $300,000 in undesignated fund balance.

At-large City Councilor Tim Cusick asked how much more fund balance could be used to lessen the impact of tax increases on city residents.

Brown said the city’s fund balance is in good shape and is currently at the high end of what the city’s auditors recommend having on hand to deal with emergencies and unanticipated costs.

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“Using $200,000 more would keep us at the higher audit-recommended healthy level,” she said.

“I hate to hand the citizens a $205-a-year increase in their tax bill all of sudden with the way things have been going,” Cusick said.

Adding that would reduce the proposed property tax rate to $22.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Cusick said he didn’t see anything in the budget that was out of whack.

“We’ve held the line for the last few years and we knew sooner or later we’re going to go up some at some point,” he said.

City councilors started their in-depth review of the budget on Wednesday. They will continue to discuss Wastewater Treatment and Gardiner Ambulance budgets — both are enterprise funds, which means they support themselves with user fees — and the city’s Tax Increment Finance districts when they meet at 6 p.m. this Wednesday. The city’s revenue sources will also be discussed.

As the budget timeline now stands, elected officials would continue discussions, including any proposed revisions, on May 25.

Public hearings on the budget are expected to be held June 1 and 22, with the second and final read of the budget scheduled for that final budget meeting.

The Gardiner City Council meets at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the City Council chamber at 6 Church St.

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