City accepts budget with zero-percent increase
Belfast — Councilors voted to accept a zero-percent increase budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year Tuesday, July 30.
The total budget, which includes sewer user fees of $826,812, is $8,136,694. The mill rate for 2012-2013 was set at 19.8, pending the outcome of the Regional School Unit 20 budget, that rate could change. Setting a budget that would not burden taxpayers was difficult for city officials who have seen a steady decline in state revenue sharing over the years.
Shortly before councilors voted unanimously to accept the budget, City Manager Joseph Slocum reiterated that the budget will not raise the property taxes of residents. He further noted that the city's budget represents about 28 percent of the property tax bill.
“It is a tight budget,” he said.
Budget discussions had been delayed until earlier this summer because a biennial budget proposed by Gov. Paul LePage had threatened to eliminate revenue sharing payments to municipalities. City officials resumed discussions after a biennial budget was passed by the legislature, which restored a portion of the revenue sharing payments.
According to state revenue sharing projections, Belfast was slated to receive $330,193.62 this year, as opposed to about $481,500 received the previous year.
Despite the decreased revenue sharing payments, city officials were able to revise some of their own revenue lines. Slocum advised councilors that the city's ambulance billing service had suggested that the rates charged by the municipality were lower than the standard industry rates. As a result, Slocum told councilors during a June workshop that ambulance revenues could be increased by about $220,000.
During a final budget workshop, city officials looked at ways to further reduce expenses. One idea considered by councilors was furloughing employees when a holiday falls near the end of the week, such as the Fourth of July, which was on a Thursday this year, and not having City Hall open the next day.
Instead of paying employees to be at work on Friday, a suggestion was made that city employees 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.
The suggestion to potentially furlough employees was not acted upon. Slocum explained during the July 30 special meeting the budget does not include cost of living increases for city employees.
While the city budget will not raise property taxes, officials have cautioned residents to be aware they will still see their taxes increase due to increases in the county and school budgets. The county tax is $1,420,463.
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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