First draft of budget remains flat at the municipal level

By Stuart Hedstrom 
Staff Writer

    DOVER-FOXCROFT — The first draft of the proposed budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year was presented by Town Manager Jack Clukey during a Feb. 25 selectmen’s meeting.
    “Obviously we don’t know where the school budget is going to end up and we don’t know about revenue sharing,” he said. “Based on the municipal side of things we will be holding flat, but on the school things will likely be higher,” Clukey said as the amount of state aid to education has been curtailed during the current year and the next two state budgets could further impact education and the local share of the school spending plan.

    Clukey said at the present time the proposed budget would keep the Dover-Foxcroft mil rate at $17.15 per every $1,000 in assessed property — before changes to the budget for RSU 68 or potential reductions in revenue sharing from the state which could raise the mil rate. He said town appropriations have increased by over $18,710 (nearly .5 percent) and revenues have gone up by nearly $23,000 (1.22 percent), but a town valuation remaining constant at slightly less than $300 million would keep the mil rate at $17.15.
    The 2014 budget includes less costs for workers’ compensation and debt service, and Clukey said the town is bringing in more revenues than previous years through its plowing contracts. He said a Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Grant was funded 100 percent through the program but now Dover-Foxcroft is responsible for a half year of the officer’s salary. “But even with that we are coming in flat,” Clukey said as the costs have been adjusted for the half-year salary in the budget.
    “The budget committee is going to start meeting next week, and we should have their recommendations by the end of next month,” Clukey said, as on Wednesday evenings from March 6-27 the committee is scheduled at meet at 6:30 at the town office. The tentative meeting schedule includes a public hearing on April 3 and then the annual town meeting to affirm the warrant article for the June referendum at 9 a.m. on Saturday, April 27 in the Morton Avenue gym.
    The Feb. 25 meeting began with State Sen. Doug Thomas (R-Ripley), who was joined by State Rep. Paul Davis (R-Sangerville) and town officials discussing the state budget and the impact on Maine’s communities. “We passed the supplemental budget,” Thomas said, “but the next one’s going to be tough, it’s going to be hard.
    “I expect local governments are not going to get as much from the state as they have in the past, there are spending requirements that have to be met. Paul and I have agreed that we are going to fight for every dime for our communities,” Sen. Thomas said,  He said he is opposed to raising taxes and said, “I won’t ask Maine people to pay any more money.”
    Sen. Thomas said in the current economic climate “people are hurting and I think it’s not the time to raise taxes.” Later in the discussion Sen. Thomas said that Maine’s business climate needs to improve in order to grow the economy.
    “Why are all the businesses leaving?,” he said. “We have got to get some of them back.”
    Select Chair Elwood Edgerly wondered about the impact of reducing state revenues, as the fund difference could have to be made up by the towns. “We don’t have the tax base to spread this out on, we are at bare bones,” Edgerly said.
    Clukey added that Dover-Foxcroft, which is a service center community, has about 100 miles of town roads and “we have sewer and we have water infrastructure that has to be maintained.”
    In his presentation on the 2013-14 town budget, Clukey explained that Dover-Foxcroft has seen a reduction in state revenue sharing for the last half decade. “The bottom line is we have been losing revenue sharing money already,” he said. Clukey said the town received nearly $550,000 in 2007-08, but this figure was reduced during the current economic climate to a low of $300,000 to about $330,000 projected for this year if changes are not made.
    “Based on 5 percent sales tax since 2005 we have never been funded at 5 percent,” Clukey said. “It dipped to 4.9 percent in 2005 and has steadily declined since. If we stayed at 5 percent we should be just under $480,000.” He added that “whatever cuts we are talking about are over and above huge cuts we have already seen.”
    Sen. Thomas was asked about new developments with the proposed East-West Highway, and he said right now he is concentrating on eminent domain. “Whether this happens or doesn’t happen I don’t feel people should have to live under that cloud,” he said. Sen. Thomas also said a feasibility study on the plan “is still in neutral” until a more specific route is determined.
    In other business, the board decided to have the Promotion and Development Committee examine possible changes to the Land Use Ordinance regarding LED signs. “Two meetings ago we heard from both Foxcroft Veterinary Services and Foxcroft Academy on the Land Use Ordinance,” Clukey said.
    He said the planning board had on its agenda, a week and a half prior, an item concerning Foxcroft Academy’s desire to have its campus be rezoned into the business district which allows the secondary school to have an LED sign on the property (Foxcroft Veterinary Services would also like to erect its LED sign at its location on Route 7). “I believe that’s on their next agenda,” Clukey said with the item scheduled for the March 6 planning board meeting.
    On Feb. 14 the planning board voted not to draft changes to the Land Use Ordinance pertaining to LED signs, but said the selectmen or a designee could draft such language and the planning board would then comment and provide a recommendation in regards to the proposed changes. “The planning board is willing to weigh in on anything brought before them,” Clukey said before the selectmen decided to send the matter to the Promotion and Development Committee.
    Any work done by the committee would then be brought back to the select board, who would decide if any changes to the ordinance should go out to a town meeting vote, such as in June,  in order to be enacted. “Maybe we could look at cleaning up the definition a little bit and maybe there would need to be a broadening of the where they are allowed,” Clukey said.
    Selectman Paul Matulis said he would like to hear from the business community on LED signs in town. “It would be good to get some clarity from that side of things,” he said. “I would also like to hear from the citizenry because I suspect there are some people who would not be in favor of more flashing signs.” Matulis suggested the board have public hearings on any changes to the Land Use Ordinance be held separately from the town budget to avoid having the issue get buried in discussions on the spending plan.
    The selectmen passed a motion indicating they are in support of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) having a presence in every one of Maine’s 16 counties, and would be willing to let the agency use space at the town office. A bill, LD 145, on the proposal is currently being worked on by the state legislature.
    “We are not the only county that doesn’t have an office,” Select Vice Chair Cindy Freeman Cyr said, explaining the bill is not advocating for the expenditure of DHHS facilities but rather the agency offer some of its services in all the state’s counties which could mean that Piscataquis County residents no longer would always have to travel to Bangor to take part in some DHHS programs.
    “The bill is not asking for more money, it’s asking that money be spent in a different way,” Freeman Cyr said.
    Clukey suggested that space at the Morton Avenue Municipal Building could be utilized by DHHS “and there are probably some other towns in the county that have space that could be used.”
    “We are getting the last batch of wastewater/collections system work together,” Clukey said, with the final work to go out to bid in the spring and be completed during this year’s construction season. “There are a few things on West Main Street and then we can wrap up our project for the wastewater/collections system.”

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