The Edgecomb Board of Selectmen received bad news with the audit of the 2013-2014 fiscal year during the board’s meeting Monday, April 6. The town’s surplus account, previously believed to contain approximately $156,000 at the end of 2013-2014, actually had a negative balance.
The news was received during the same meeting selectmen accepted the budget committee’s recommendations for the 2015-2016 fiscal year budget. The preliminary budget, which includes the education and municipal budget, reflected an increase of 2.78 percent from $3,576,151 in 2014-2015 to $3,675,485 in 2015-2016.
Due to decreases in the town’s revenue stream, property owners are projected to see an increase of 3.13 percent in their contribution to the budget. $2,919,651 was raised from property taxes in 2014-2015. According to the preliminary budget, $3,010,976 must be raised from property taxes in 2015-2016.
Edgecomb saw an increase of 13.3 percent in the mil rate for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, due to an accounting error in the previous two fiscal years that created a budget shortfall.
The mil rate increased from $13.15 in 2013-2014 to $14.90 in 2014-2015. Owners of a property valued at $100,000 paid $1,490 in property taxes in 2014-2015 as opposed to the previous year’s property taxes of $1,315.
Approximately $430,000 of the town’s surplus account was used to cover the budget shortfall to prevent a further increase in property taxes. Selectmen believed the surplus account had a balance of $156,000 at the end of the 2013-2014 fiscal year and were hopeful it would rise to $220,000 by the end of the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
“I don’t want to depress you,” said auditor Fred Brewer, of the accounting firm PFBF, “but there’s nothing in there.”
Brewer is still in the final stages of completing Edgecomb’s 2013-2014 audit and could not give an exact figure for the amount overdrawn from the surplus account. He did confirm, however, that the figure is negative.
Due to the previous budget shortfall and the inability to rely on surplus to keep the tax commitment of property owners down, the budget committee tried to keep the budget flat to prevent a further increase in Edgecomb’s mil rate. They were unable to prevent the budget from rising.
The largest dollar increase in the budget came from the school department. The education budget rose from $2,480,215 in 2014-2015 to $2,539,182 in 2015-2016. The school budget represents approximately 75 percent of Edgecomb’s overall budget.
The highways and bridges department accounts for the second highest increase in the budget, due largely to snow and ice removal. The budget for the department rose from $471,726 in 2014-2015 to $495,608 in 2015-2016. Most line items in the department remained flat with the exception of snow removal and salt and sand.
Plowing and sanding, which is done by Edgecomb Road Commissioner Scott Griffin, rose from $186,515 in 2014-2015 to $193,975 in 2015-2016. The cost of salt and sand increased from $26,578 in 2014-2015 to $43,000 in 2015-2016 – an increase driven by a $20,000 shortfall in the snow and ice removal budget in 2014-2015.
The third highest increase came from the public safety budget, which includes the fire department, emergency management, and a contract with the Wiscasset Ambulance Service. The public safety budget rose from $96,098 in 2014-2015 to $107,723 in 2015-2016.
The increase was driven by firefighters’ salaries. Edgecomb volunteer firefighters receive $10 an hour for calls. Due to an increase in the call volume experienced by the fire department, the department budgeted for 1,260 hours.
Edgecomb Fire Chief Roy Potter and selectmen continue to discuss the possibility of transforming the stipend position of fire chief into a full-time position. Selectmen discussed the possibility of including two new warrant articles to be considered at town meeting regarding the fire department.
One warrant article would ask voters whether they want a full-time fire chief. The exact dollar amount the full-time position would add to the budget has not been determined yet.
Selectmen discussed the possibility of adding another warrant article for community input on what they would like to see from the fire department in terms of services. Selectmen discussed including the second warrant article due to conversations about the fire department being forced to cut services if a full-time chief is not approved.
Selectmen are also discussing the best way to address the negative balance in the town’s surplus account. Selectmen are discussing the possibility of abandoning the Wooden Fund, a town fund created to explore developing public water access with neighboring communities, and transferring the balance of approximately $180,000 to the surplus account.
The budget “is higher than we’d like to see,” Edgecomb Budget Committee Chair Nort Fowler said. “But costs keep going up.”