The Camden Select Board voted May 2 to recommend a 2018 town budget of $8.35 million after struggling to reach an agreement on cuts that would lower the impact on taxpayers.

After revenues are subtracted from the $8.35 million in expenses, $5.8 million remains to be raised by taxpayers. The $5.8 million represents a 6.68 percent increase over the 2017 budget.

On May 2, Select Board Chairman John French led an effort, carried over from the prior week, to make final cuts and lower the spending increase. He originally favored the budget developed by Interim Town Manager Roberta Smith, which raised 2018 spending less than 5 percent.

Earlier in April, the majority of board members backed Budget Committee recommendations for the $8.35 million budget, which includes an additional full-time firefighter position requested by Fire Chief Chris Farley.

On April 25, the majority on the Select Board added $35,000 to the budget in order to continue town payments of health insurance premiums for full-time employees hired prior to July 1, 2007. This brought the Select Board's 2018 budget recommendations to a 7 percent increase over 2017.

Board members backed longtime employees who explained that staff was not fully informed by the former town manager of a proposal to require their contribution towards insurance premiums for dependent and family care. French said he could not support a 7 percent increase, and that further cuts would have to be made May 2.

On May 2, French proposed reducing the town's Economic Development Director position held by Karen Brace to part-time. Cutting the full-time position's $50,000 salary plus benefits in half was estimated to produce a savings of over $40,000.

Oscar Verest, co-owner of the Camden Harbor Inn, supported the full-time position, saying all the things there are to do in Camden are as much of an attraction as the beauty of the town. Verest cited the combination of beauty and vitality as the reason he moved to Camden 10 years ago, and why people come to Camden, and may eventually choose to live there.

Budget Committee member Paul Cavelli described the Economic Development Director as someone who communicates with businesses, and is the "day-to-day connector of all the dots."

"You need someone in the town office who is that conduit," he said.

Selectman Marc Ratner supported the full-time position. He urged that any change in the position, including the focus of the job, be made after a new town manager is hired.

Selectman Don White said he would not support a part-time position. He described the current focus of the job as the idea of the former town manager and agreed it could be redirected.

Selectman Jim Heard described the job's focus as organizing festivals, and said the position should instead be about jobs and attracting young people to the area.

The vote was 2-2 on cutting the position to part-time, with John French and Jim Heard in favor, and Marc Ratner and Don White against. The board has a vacant position, formerly held by the late Leonard Lookner. The position will be filled at the June election.

Smith proposed a resolution to break the impasse on the board. which offered a $24,000 budget cut. She recommended adopting the Budget Committee's recommendations, training firefighters as assistant code enforcement officers, and reducing funding in the code enforcement and planning budget for part-time code officers by $24,000. Selectmen voted unanimously to adopt this plan.

Farley spoke in favor of the idea, stating that it had been discussed before, and firefighters already conduct inspections. He said during inspections, firefighters come across building code issues, and would be able to address those issues with the code enforcement training.

At the end of the budget discussion, French said he continued to support cuts, and would think about how this could be done leading up to June town meeting.

In preparing the budget, Smith estimated that $2.5 million in revenues would be used to offset spending.

Local revenues come from a variety of sources including: Camden's vehicle excise tax, $920,000; state revenue sharing, $268,000; harbor permits and dockage, $250,000; Opera House rentals, cable TV franchise, building permit fees, and cemetery maintenance.

The budget recommendation process, which began in March, is now complete. Camden residents will discuss and vote on the 2018 municipal budget on the floor of the annual town meeting, Wednesday, June 14, at 7 p.m. in the Camden Opera House Auditorium.

To view previous budget stories online, see the inks below.

Courier Publications reporter Susan Mustapich can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at smustapich@villagesoup.com.