Big budget season is here

By The Courier-Gazette Editorial Board | May 01, 2014

Now is the time to pay attention to what is going on at Rockland City Hall and with Regional School Unit 13.

City Council has begun going through the proposed budget for 2015, and the school board has been given the bleak budget picture as it prepares to send its budget to voters for approval.

It would seem city staff and City Councilors take seriously the pressure on taxpayers and the need to hold the line on expenses, given the budget presented by acting City Manager Tom Luttrell. The budget shows a 7 percent reduction in expenditures realized by not filling vacant positions and represents a zero percent city tax increase.

Positions not being filled so far include the city manager position itself, which council has made no move to fill since the departure of former manager James Smith. If anything, under Luttrell, city government seems to be working more smoothly, so perhaps the council has found its manager.

Long-time Assistant Fire Chief Adam Miceli has taken the helm of the fire department while the city contemplates a new public safety director rather than replacing outgoing Fire Chief Charlie Jordan Jr. This public safety director may be hired to oversee both the police and fire departments. If that move will save money, it is certainly worth exploring.

Cuts to personnel should never be taken lightly, but the measures contemplated by city leaders are similar to tough choices made in the private sector every day.

One area to watch moving forward is the wastewater treatment facility, which is seeing a 6 percent increase in appropriations and a resulting 3 percent rate increase.

So property taxes won't go up, right?

Not so fast.

When you get your property tax bill, it's divided into money to support county government, city government and the school district. The largest portion of your property taxes goes to the schools, and that budget is in a tougher state.

The school district is looking at a budget of about $27 million, even with the 10 jobs now on the potential chopping block. Interim Superintendent Michael Wilhelm reports the district has a $2 million budget gap to fill given rising costs in health insurance and raises for teachers, in addition to having less money left over from last year than usual.

In the middle of this budget process Wilhelm's contract as interim superintendent is set to expire, which could mean a change in leadership for the district... again.

If by some miracle property taxes do not increase this year, it will likely be the result of reductions in services. In the school district, for example, we may lose the early world languages program for our students.

If you have questions and concerns for our leaders as they work out what our taxes are going to be in the coming year, now is the time to get out to the meetings and to call your school board reps and city councilors.

The school district budget meeting will beTuesday, May 27, at 6 p.m. at Oceanside High School East. This will offer a chance to ask questions and raise concerns.

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