Wednesday, March 12, 2014
By Kaitlin Schroeder firstname.lastname@example.org
FARMINGTON — Budget committee members at Town Meeting will recommend a $5.05 million budget, up 2.5 percent from last year’s $4.92 million.
Selectmen will make their recommendation in February and residents will give the final approval March 24.
The final recommendation by the budget committee included an additional $5,000 for the library, a request that rekindled discussion about budget appropriations for nonprofit groups.
Committee member Betty Jespersen moved to increase the library budget to $158,639.
“I think it would show support for their needs,” she said. “I think what they do is very valuable.”
Committee member Matt Smith said he was concerned it was inconsistent to increase the library budget, when selectmen voted 3-2 against giving voters the option of giving $7,000 to two nonprofit groups.
The Farmington Public Library is a nonprofit organization that contracts with the town, and not a town department.
Selectmen who voted against funding Safe Voices, a domestic violence education and advocacy group, and the American Red Cross, recommended the groups ask the county for money instead.
“I’m wondering how it will look when we wouldn’t look at the Red Cross or Safe Voices,” Smith said.
Jespersen said selectmen’s reasoning that it was fair to support certain nonprofit groups and not others doesn’t pertain to the library, which is in a different category. Town Manager Richard Davis said the library is considered a contracted service, while the two other groups were considered outside agencies.
The move was passed by the budget committee 5-4, with one member not present.
The committee recommended a $411,828 Fire Department budget, 30 percent more than the $317,342 appropriated last year.
The fire department officials told the committee and it’s lost more than a third of its members in the last five years. Because of dwindling volunteers, Fire Chief Terry Bell said additional money is needed to hire more scheduled day staff.
The committee recommended a $1.05 million public works department budget, up 4.78 percent from last year, and recommended $5,000 be added to the public works reserve account.
Clyde Ross, chairman of the committee, said while he voted in favor of the budget recommendation, he is concerned the budget does not ensure enough money for road maintenance and incidentals.
Budget committee members and selectmen have been particularly reserved in recommending budget increases this year, citing concerns about a pending cuts in the state’s program that shares sales tax revenue with municipalities.
Davis said he and budget committee member Stephan Bunker were among a crowd of municipal officials who descended on Augusta Wednesday for a hearing by the Appropriations and Financial Affairs committee over a proposed reversal of $40 million in cuts to the revenue sharing program.
To compensate for the restoration of revenue sharing with municipalities, the proposal calls for equal cuts of tax breaks and economic development incentives.
Bunker, former chair of the board of selectmen, said he doesn’t envy the board’s task of finding ways to cut services if the cuts to municipal revenue sharing remain.
“I don’t think anyone says they have too much police or fire protection or their roads are too good,” said Bunker.
Davis said the town may not know how much they are getting in municipal revenue sharing until after the residents vote on the annual budget.
Last year the town predicted it would get $534,413 in shared revenue, but received $479,000. For now, the town is projecting getting $363,489 in revenue sharing this year.
The town’s property tax rate is $15.75 per $1,000 of valuation, down 5 percent from last year because town property was revalued at a higher rate.
Davis said the town voters will be informed of this at the meeting so they know property taxes may need to be raised to pay for services.
“They will have to decide what level of service they want and what are they willing to pay for it,” he said.Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252 email@example.com