Camden municipal budget to rise 3 percent

By Susan Mustapich | Mar 06, 2019
Photo by: Susan Mustapich The 2019-20 municipal budget will include money for capital improvements to address infrastructure affected by severe weather and sea-level rise, such as the submerged seawall at Harbor Park photographed in March 2018 during a high tide following a storm.

Proposed municipal spending of $9.58 million in the 2019-20 budget will pay for existing town operations, an increase in wages for town employees, improvements to infrastructure facing severe weather and rising sea levels, and a reserve account for future debt on the wastewater treatment plant upgrade.

The increased costs, up 6 percent from last year, will be paid for in part with $3.5 million  in revenues from town departments, licenses, permits and fees, state funding and $945,000 from the town's surplus fund. Revenues are up 12 percent from last year.

After revenues are subtracted from expenses, $6.08 million remains to be paid for by property tax, which is a net municipal budget increase of 3 percent.

Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell prepared the budget based on the requests of town department heads and presented it to the Budget Committee Feb. 28. Though not enough Budget Committee members were present to have a quorum, no voting was needed. Caler-Bell explained the budget to those present, and the meeting, which is recorded, can be viewed on the townn's YouTube channel.

One of the largest spending increases is in the area of town employee salaries, funded at $197,670. This includes a 3 percent cost of living increase, the addition of a laborer position in public works, and an increase to 30 hours for a deputy town clerk in the finance department. New hires in the current year's budget also impact the spending increase. The staffing increases iin public works and the finance department will provide the level of service expected by residents, Caler-Bell said in a written introduction to the budget.

She emphasized the importance of  keeping an eye on the town's debt, and keeping that as level as possible each year. Caler-Bell looks at each of the town's debt payments, and when it will retire, and that informs decisions on spending in the next year, or deferring spending until a particular debt payment drops off.

She is also planning for a large annual debt payment of about $600,000, which the town will begin paying in about three years, for the $13 million upgrade to the wastewater treatment plant. To begin to plan for that debt payment, she is proposing to fund a new capital reserve account with $120,500 in the 2019-20 and subsequent budgets.

Capital improvements will see an increase of  $187,100, according to her proposal, to address deferred maintenance of infrastructure.  On Feb. 28, she told Budget Committee members that a long list of deferred maintenance and capital projects needs to be addressed.

"There were some things we wished we had more time to plan for and not have to do right away," she said. "A good example is the gate on the west dam, which is failing."  She said it was hoped that this repair could wait five years, because of the large amount of spending last year on the Seabright Dam repair, but the work can't wait any longer.

She also discussed "a need to invest in infrastructure projects where we're focusing on sustainability and adaptation to severe weather events. The sea wall in Harbor Park is continually getting eroded. The blocks that make up the wall are getting pushed out," she said.

Caler-Bell said a status quo repair of $75,000 to $100,000 might mean coming back in three to five years to do the repair again. She suggests doing work to address the "long-term realities of what is going to happen, which is continuous severe weather and sea level rising."

She also emphasized energy efficiency projects with upfront costs and debt that can be paid back in a relatively short period of time. The current project to convert all of Camden's streetlights to LED fixtures, and to buy the lamp poles from CMP, "is a good example of one of those projects." This project will be paid back in four years, according to Caler-Bell, through a savings of about $36,000 a year the town is not paying to lease the streetlights, and in reduced energy costs.

She announced that the town's surplus fund is very healthy, in part because of a property revaluation two years ago. Because of this, the town can self-finance projects, borrowing money and paying itself back, she said. She recommended this be done for the west dam, saving $170,000 in interest payments, as well as for other projects.

A series of Budget Committee meetings will take place, in which different areas of the budget are discussed, and committee members make recommendations. The meetings take place Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. in the French Conference Room. On March 7, the topic is general government, including administration, planning, code office, assessing, finance, and the Opera House; the March 14 meeting will review public works and public safety budgets including police, fire, emergency medical services and dispatching services; the March 21 meeting will look at library, parks and recreation, dams, debt service, capital reserves, Snow Bowl and wastewater treatment plant operations; and the March 28 session will review provider agency requests and finalize Budget Committee recommendations.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Mar 06, 2019 13:35

What wonderful oversight!  Many thanks needed for this wonderful committee.

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