Manager predicts no municipal tax increase, while spending risesBond financing, reserve funds and tax base growth will hold tax rate steady
CAMDEN — A proposed $8.25 million municipal budget for 2017-2018 is currently going through Budget Committee review.
The Budget Committee meets at 6:30 p.m. in the Washington Street Conference Room. Remaining committee meetings will be held Tuesday, April 11 to discuss budgets for parks, recreation, harbor, dams, cemeteries, and revenues. On Thursday, April 13 budgets for general government will be discussed, and the Budget Committee is expected to finalize its recommendations.
On Thursday, April 20, Snow Bowl and Wastewater budgets will be reviewed. The budgets for these two facilities are separate from the municipal budget. While most town services are paid for primarily by local property taxes and a combination of local and state revenues, wastewater fees cover operating expenses of the facility, and revenues from the ski area are projected to cover costs of running the Snow Bowl.
The proposed $8.25 million budget represents an $850,000 increase in spending over the 2016-2017 budget.
A cost of living increase of 2 percent for town employees is included in the budget.
Police and fire department budgets will maintain their current levels of service, staffing and training, according to Interim Town Manager Roberta Smith. She cites budget constraints as the reason for not recommending the addition of one full-time firefighter position requested by the Fire Department. The 2017-2018 budget includes $58,000 in cost sharing for the police chief position from the town of Rockport.
The increase is spending is primarily due to capital improvements. One project is the reconstruction of the public parking lot at the corner of Mechanic and Washington streets, and the retaining wall at the back of the lot, at a cost of $208,000. Another is a new Route 1 sidewalk that extends from Quarry Hill to just past the Rockport town line. The project includes crosswalk and traffic signal improvements. The Maine Department of Transportation is paying for the majority of this project, with Camden's share totaling $75,000. The town of Rockport is also paying for a portion of the project. To reduce the tax impact for Camden's share of the project, $40,000 will be withdrawn from a Sidewalk Reserve fund.
Repairs to dams are part of the capital improvement spending, and are expected to cost $95,000. Repair to the Montgomery Dam will cost $65,000. The Seabright Dam repair to the retaining wall and a leak at the base of the dam will cost $30,200.
Storm drain improvements on Sand Street will cost $150,000, and will be done in conjunction with sewer line work. The cost of the sewer line work is part of the Wastewater Department budget.
A downtown street light upgrade will replace the lamps with energy-efficient LED lighting, at a cost of $64,000. The town's energy reserve fund and a Downtown TIF will be tapped to reduce the cost to taxpayers to around $17,000.
Revenues and tax impact
Smith proposes using $2.5 million in revenues to offset the $8.25 million in spending. This would reduce the amount of the budget to be raised by local property taxes to $5.75 million.
At $5.75 million, the 2017-18 budget is up 4.9 percent over the 2016-2017 budget.
Local revenues from a variety of sources total $2.2 million, and are a major contributor to Camden's municipal budget. These revenues dwarf the contribution from state revenue sharing, which is projected to bring in $268,000. The main sources of local revenues are projected as follows: Camden's vehicle excise tax, $920,000; harbor permits, $180,000; Opera House rentals, $80,000; cable TV franchise, $71,000: harbor dockage, $70,000; building permit fees, $60,000; and cemetery maintenance, $55,000.
While overall spending is up, three factors will minimize the impact on taxpayers. Bond financing is proposed to pay part of the cost of capital improvements, and an increase in the value of Camden's tax base is expected to raise additional revenues. Reserve funds, which are used as savings accounts for future projects, will be tapped this coming year.
Smith recommends bond financing in the amount of $408,000 to pay for improvements to the downtown retaining wall and parking lot, storm drains and dams. The bond is repaid over a number of years, reducing the impact on taxes in any one year.
Smith projects that the amount of bond financing can be further reduced, due to the expected increase in the value of Camden's tax base. A partial reassessment of town property is underway, according to Smith.
She also recommends the use of up to $69,077 in reserve funds to pay down the cost of the Route 1 sidewalk and downtown street light improvements.
While funds are usually withdrawn from surplus to reduce the tax impact, Smith recommended that no funds be taken from surplus for the 2017-18 budget. Her rationale for leaving the surplus untouched is the lack of resolution to the Snow Bowl redevelopment audit that has been underway since February, but is not yet completed. In the past three years, $150,000 was withdrawn from surplus each year.
Courier Publications Editor Kim Lincoln can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at email@example.com.