Belfast proposing $8.9 million 2013-2014 budget
Belfast — City councilors wrapped up discussion on the proposed $8.9 million 2013-2014 budget, which will go before residents later this month.
The proposed $8,963,506 gross budget represents a zero percent increase to property taxpayers.With the inclusion of sewer fees, the net budget is $8.1 million.
The 2012-2013 budget totaled $8,902,810 before factoring in sewer fees.
Shortly after budget discussions began earlier this year, councilors delayed further action as they awaited word from the state about whether municipal revenue sharing payments would be eliminated or reduced. Following passage of the state budget that restored some revenue sharing, councilors launched back into their own budget discussions.
During the final budget workshop Thursday, July 11, councilors looked for areas where they could make final cuts to keep the budget as lean as possible. Before city officials began reviewing their final numbers, former Councilor Marina Delune made a plea to keep costs down as much as possible without cutting into programs that benefit people on fixed incomes.
Following Delune's comments, Parks and Recreation Director Norm Poirier told councilors he had revised some of his budget numbers after taking a closer look at his department. Some of those revisions included reducing the skate park attendants salary — budgeted for about $13,000 — down to $9,504. Poirier explained he was able to adjust the salary by making changes in the attendant's scheduling without sacrificing coverage.
Poirier also said he was able to find savings of about $4,600 in the city pool expenditure line. That money, he explained, would go towards paying the skate park attendant salary. He explained he was able to find the savings by budgeting for the pool staff based on actual expenditures from the previous year.
Finally, Poirier reduced a request for $15,000 to go into a Capital Reserve account to $10,000.
As councilors looked for other areas in the budget where they could make cuts or potentially revise revenues upwards, Councilor Mary Mortier suggested having a discussion about using money from the Downtown Tax Increment Financing district to pay for the economic development director position.
During a previous workshop, councilors chose to provide funding for Our Town Belfast using TIF monies. However, Councilors Roger Lee and Eric Sanders were hesitant to drain the TIF with further expenditures. Lee specifically said he is concerned that using TIF funds will mean there is less money available for infrastructure projects in the city.
While City Manager Joseph Slocum recognized Lee's concerns, he noted that some towns use their TIF money to pay for positions such as the economic development director.
Discussion eventually turned to other topics as neither those in favor of using TIF funds or against it could muster the support to accept or reject the proposal. After Lee then made a suggestion to potentially reduce the social services and miscellaneous promotional line items by 5 percent, Sanders suggested talking about the councilors and mayor not accepting pay for their positions for one year.
The idea didn't gain traction before Mortier suggested talking about furloughing employees in a situation where a holiday falls near the end of the work week. She referenced the Fourth of July holiday, which fell on a Thursday, and how City Hall re-opened on Friday. Instead of paying employees to be at work on Friday, she suggested they would be given the day off and have a long weekend, and in turn, the city would not have to pay them for that day.
Her suggestion failed to generate much discussion as councilors considered possibly revising some of the revenue lines, but was revisited when Mayor Walter Ash Jr. raised concerns about furloughs.
“These people have to a have a full time job,” Ash said.
His concern was that if employees have their hours reduced that will mean they will be unable to meet their own financial obligations and seek employment elsewhere. Sanders then asked Slocum if he had ever heard of towns instituting a voluntary time off policy.
Sanders explained that such a policy could work by allowing employees to volunteer to take time off, which would be unpaid. Slocum said the city has exercised a policy where if an employee has used all of their vacation time and they want a day off, they can take a day but they won't be paid.
Ash pointed out that while letting employees voluntarily take unpaid time off is a nice sentiment, such a policy would not help the city's budget because it would be impossible to determine how much time the employees would take off and, therefore, couldn't be budgeted.
As councilors prepared to finalize their proposed budget, a debate began over where a final cut could be made to achieve a zero percent increase to property tax payers. Initially, councilors considered reducing the road budget by slightly more than $12,800, but eventually opted to take the $12,800 from surplus.
Slocum noted that while the city's budget won't increase property taxes, residents will see an increase in their bill due to the county and school budget. Lee further clarified that increases in property taxes have primarily been driven by increased spending by the schools.
A public hearing on the proposed budget is scheduled for Thursday, July 25, at 7 p.m. at City Hall, according to a report from Slocum.
Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ben Holbrook is a reporter for The Republican Journal covering general news.
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