The select board approved a proposed $9 million 2018-19 town budget April 18, up 7.9 percent from the previous year.

The select board also voted to use $3,120,658 million in revenues to offset the $9 million in spending. This reduces the amount to be raised by local property taxes to $5.89 million.

The $5,889,433 million in spending is an increase of less than 1 percent over 2017-2018. The impact of the municipal budget on local property taxes will be an increase of 0.7 percent, according to Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell.

Caler-Bell proposed an $8.9 million budget the first week of March. This is the first budget she has crafted, since her hire in June 2017. Town budgets run on a fiscal year, from July 1 to June 30, and are finalized by public vote at June town meetings. The 2017-18 budget was put together by Roberta Smith, who stepped in to the role of interim town manager, after Pat Finnigan resigned.

The select board met April 18 for their final review of the budget, adding $60,000, to Caler-Bell's proposal. Additions include: $10,000 for sidewalk maintenance, $6,500 to digitize archival town documents and improve document storage, and $20,000 in capital improvements to upgrade systems in the Washington street conference room, where public meetings are held and broadcast. Board members also increased a Snow Bowl reserve fund that exists to help cover potential losses, from $10,000 to $25,000.

The select board voted to increase an opera house capital reserve fund from $10,000 to $45,000. The purpose of the increase is to take care of opera house maintenance and heat tape for the roof, to prevent icing. The board voted to remove $20,000 from an opera house capital improvement fund to renovate a third-floor bathroom.

Caler-Bell provided an overview of each section of the expense budget and Finance Director Jodi Hansen responded to questions.

General government

Board members approved $1,902,955 for general government, up 1 percent from the previous year. This includes salaries and health insurance for personnel in administration, finance, planning, development, assessing, and the opera house. It also includes expenses for information technology, insurances, professional services, and opera house and town office building costs.

Caler-Bell explained that funding for election personnel and overtime is up $3,000 to cover November elections. Under professional services, an additional $35,000 for engineering services will be used to plan the public landing boardwalk improvement. Under planning and development, the select board members added $6,500 to a new records-preservation expense line, to improve document storage and preservation, and to digitize archival material.

Opera House

Select board members discussed opera house operations and building expenses, which are part of the general government budget, as well as projected revenues.

Caler-Bell is projecting opera house rental revenue of $50,000, a dramatic decrease from the $80,000 projected in the current budget. She called the revenue estimate very conservative, and said it is due in part to reducing conference fees, and the loss of the 2018 Pop Tech Conference to the Point Lookout venue in Northport. She brought up discussions last fall about shifting the focus of opera house productions, from profit making or self-sufficiency, to an emphasis on benefits to the community.

Board members Alison McKellar and Jenna Lookner said they did not realize revenues would be cut so deeply when they voted on reducing conference fees. Board member Marc Ratner said opera house manager Dave Morrison is in discussions with Pop Tech organizers, and for 2018, planning is in the works to hold some of Pop Tech's events at the opera house.

Board member John French contradicted the view that a focus on money-making at the opera house actually produced profits. He said that over the years, opera house revenue has not covered costs, and that the deficits were made up by taking money from the town surplus fund.

Ratner, who had served on the opera house committee in recent years, described problems created in the past, by not fully budgeting for all of the costs involved in booking acts. He said this even caused full-house events to lose money.

Caler-Bell said the annual audit of the 2016-17 municipal budget focused on a need for standardizing accounting procedures, and specifically targeted methods used in opera house accounting in the past that do not meet standards. Caler-Bell likened this to what caused problems with accounting for the Snow Bowl redevelopment. She said Hanson and Morrison have worked together to revamp back office accounting procedures for the opera house in order to produce accurate expense and revenue reports going forward.

Public safety

The board approved expenses for public safety totaling $2,397,931, up 7 percent, unchanged from Caler-Bell's recommendation.

Board member Alison McKellar questioned why there were no savings as a result of the agreement between Camden and Rockport police departments, and said she hears questions from the public about why the town has 11 police officers. She said she has had exhaustive conversations with police chief Randy Gagne, and believes he is open to ideas.

Board member Bob Falciani said the only savings are due to sharing the cost of the police chief.

French and Ratner spoke about the importance of covering shifts. French said the town gets complaints from the public every day about people running stop signs. He attributes this to not having enough officers to cover all of the shifts. He said the idea of having police officers covering the elementary, middle and high schools is being discussed. He spoke about the importance of radar details that the police already do outside the schools in the mornings and concerns about speeding in town, and pedestrian safety.

He said McKellar has the ability to recommend cuts in the police budget, but he does not recommend that.

The largest increase in public safety expenses is the cost of emergency ambulance services, provided by North East Health Mobile Services. Camden's portion of the costs is shared with Rockport, Hope and Lincolnville, and is expected to increase from just over $35,000 to $140,000. Public safety expenses include police and fire departments, county dispatch services and public safety building costs. Also included are $252,276 for hydrants and $63,500 for street lights.

Public Works

The board approved $1,545,000 for public works, adding $10,000 for sidewalk maintenance. The budget includes expenses for wages and insurances, $277,000 for street paving, $80,000 for winter salt and sand, $40,000 for fleet maintenance and $30,000 to fuel the department's trucks and equipment.

Leisure services

The board approved $1,084,655 for leisure services, adding $6,500 to the parks and recreation department for grounds and building maintenance. Leisure services covers the town's expenses for the Camden Public Library, the harbor and public landing, recreation services, parks, and dams.

Revenues

The $3.2 million in revenue, used to reduce the amount to be rasied in taxes, comes from a variety of sources, including Camden's vehicle excise tax, $980,000; harbor permits, $195,000; harbor dockage $80,000; building permit fees, $60,000; and state revenue, $268,000. The Select Board also voted to use $150,000 in town surplus funds to decrease taxes.

Caler-Bell is proposing to keep the cost of the overall budget down by using revenues from the town's downtown tax incentive financing, to pay for some capital improvement projects, and bond financing to pay for specific projects, including repair to Seabright Dam and drainage on Bayview Street.