Belfast City Manager proposing $8.5 million 2014-2015 budget
Belfast — Belfast's City Manager is proposing a 2014-2015 budget of $8.5 million, an increase of 7 percent over the current year budget.
Last year, councilors approved an $8,136,694 budget, which was offset by non-property tax revenue in the amount of $4,060,649. This year, City Manager Joseph Slocum is proposing an $8,507,064 budget to be offset by anticipated revenues of $4,144,680.
The budget represents a net increase to property tax payers of $286,339, or 0.4 mils. That means a tax payer who owns a home valued at $100,000 would pay an additional $40 on their tax bill.
"The budget...is not flat as it was last year. I do not think we can meet the expectations of this community without seeing an increase in spending this year. Materials, services and benefits all cost more; required procedures cost more; repairs cost more; and where demand is up some departments need some enhancement in order to meet those increasing needs," Slocum states.
Slocum notes in his 27-page budget document that there are no cost-of-living increases for city employees and that he asked department heads not to include such increases in their budgets until union negotiations are settled.
He also points out that he is not paying attention to the school budget, which as proposed would increase local assessments in Belfast by more than 7 percent, because of the ongoing withdrawal process, which could potentially provide property tax relief in the future.
“The city can't beat itself up over the increasing impact the school system is having on the property taxes,” Slocum writes. “City council is doing what can be done by actively pursuing measured steps to get answers that will guide the community's future course.”
Slocum points out in his budget message that the original budget he was planning to send to the council would have increased the tax bill by $463,000 — an 11-percent increase — but decided he could not propose a double-digit percentage increase.
Slocum attributed the increases in the budget to higher social security and medicare costs, which increased $20,000; state retirement, which increased $20,000; and health insurance costs that increased $168,000.
The higher cost of health insurance was attributed to a 14.3-percent increase in the city's premiums, Slocum indicates in his budget. He said the city also under-budgeted health insurance in the 2013-2014 budget.
Finally, the increased health insurance costs also include insurance for a new sergeant's position at the police department and the restoration of a full-time position.
The police department budget is increasing $65,000 to include an additional sergeant position. Slocum said due to the department's workload, Police Chief Mike McFadden requested two additional daytime sergeants. However, Slocum said he only included funding for one of the positions and it will be up to council members to decide whether funding should be included for the second position.
Slocum also noted that he will provide office support for the department through a floater position in his office at City Hall.
In terms of capital projects, Slocum said the city has reached the point where it can no longer set aside money to put in capital reserves and fund new projects at the same time. Instead, he is proposing putting more emphasis on maintaining the infrastructure the city now has, such as insulating the Belfast Free Library.
“What this means is that there are and will be fewer dollars available from year to year to do something we have not done before, like build more new water fountains, add more bathrooms or fund some new initiatives,” Slocum writes.
During an interview Tuesday, April 29, Slocum said he believes the budget represents a figure that most people in the city can support.
"I believe this budget meets the expectations of the majority of the community," he said.
Wages increased by $5,658 due to changing the floater position from a 30 hour work week to a 40 hour work week.
This line item increased by $5,000.
Wages increased $2,493; supplies increased $1,000; miscellaneous expenses increased $500; and the audit line item increased $500.
Wages increased $3,057 due to upgrading the assistant to assessor position because of an increased work load.
Wages decreased $2,093 due to the new deputy clerk starting at a lower beginning pay rate. Office equipment reserve also decreased by $500 because of sufficient existing reserve levels.
Wages increased $998; electricity increased $500; and heating fuel increased $1,000.
Wages decreased by $500 because there is no presidential election in the coming year.
Social security increased $20,173; retirement increased $20,000 due to an increase in the Maine State Retirement rate; Group Life Insurance increased $1,000; and health insurance increased $168,577 due to a 14.3-percent increase in premiums with an additional 10-percent increase possible beginning Jan. 1, 2015.
Contract supervisor increased $1,200 due to a full year contract.
Wages increased $3,790 due to the number of calls personnel responded to; overtime increased $4,000 for the hourly wage firefighter; heating fuel increased $1,500; hose increased $500; and vehicle maintenance increased $1,000.
Wages increased $43,113 due to a new sergeant position; overtime increased $5,000; supplies increased $1,300; electricity increased $1,500; heating fuel increased $1,000; building maintenance increased $1,000; mileage increased $7,048. Slocum notes this line item may be able to be cut further because it includes training and certification for two officers.
Uniforms increased $2,400 but may also be able to be cut down because the figure represents a cost for two additional officers.
Gas and oil also increased $3,000.
Downtown lights increased by $1,760.
Supplies/expense increased by $2,400 to pay for new indexing system.
Property/fleet decreased by $1,615 and unemployment increased by $1,000.
Wages increased by $5,605 due to the number of calls and step/longevity increases; equipment capital reserve increased $1,574; ambulance collections increased $2,000; and gas and oil increased $2,000.
Wages increased by $1,239 but can be cut by $1,200, Slocum notes, due to a miscalculation for vehicle expense.
Wages increased $5,600; parts and tires increased $6,000; and gas and oil increased $10,000.
Wages increased $4,088 due to an increase in the hourly rate for two 32-hour employees; building maintenance is a new cost at $4,000; tipping and transit fees decreased by $9,635 due to a more efficient operation and fewer trips; and recycling expense decreased $1,226, which is a cost savings.
Road repair increased $20,000.
Assistance decreased by $10,000.
Wages increased by $602.
Groundskeeping increased $1,000; gas and oil increased $700; pool operations decreased $2,000 through savings on powdered chlorine; park toilet increased $2,200; and park maintenance increased $2,266.
Wages increased $1,504; electricity decreased $500; building maintenance increased $1,500; and book purchases increased $500.
Supplies increased $950; equipment capital reserves increased $3,000; gas and oil increased $500; loam increased $700; tree removal increased $500; and maintenance capital reserve increased $3,000 to reset head stones.
Maintenance increased $1,000.
Harbor floats increased $5,500 for float replacement.
Wages increased $538; and GIS support increased $2,500.
Council members are scheduled to discuss the budget during workshops on Tuesday, April 29, Thursday, May 1, and Monday, May 5. The work sessions are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.
Ben Holbrook is a reporter for The Republican Journal covering general news.
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