After a months-long budget-setting process, the Wiscasset Board of Selectmen finalized the warrant for June’s annual town meeting by referendum and will present a municipal budget with a 12.94 percent increase to voters.
The proposed municipal budget of $5,490,972 does not include the county tax for 2016-2017 or proposed capital-improvement expenditures.
Wiscasset’s municipal budget was $4,861,521 in 2015-2016. If all expenditures on the town meeting warrant are approved in June, $4,937,271 of the proposed $5.49 million budget will be raised through property taxes.
In addition to the $5.4 million budget, Wiscasset selectmen are proposing withdrawing nearly 4.5 percent, or $486,430, from the town’s investment portfolio for capital-improvement expenditures; 4.5 percent is the maximum amount that should be withdrawn, according to Wiscasset’s investment adviser, H.M. Payson.
The single largest increase in Wiscasset’s municipal budget is its debt service, which jumped over 1,342 percent due to a recently refinanced $2 million bond. The $2 million bond used to fund the withdrawal from RSU 12 matured in January 2016, but was not incorporated into the 2015-2016 budget.
Wiscasset selectmen voted to refinance the bond a week or two before it matured, entering into a 10-year repayment plan at $228,234 a year. Due to the new bond payments, debt service jumped in Wiscasset from $17,000 in 2015-2016 to $245,234 in 2016-2017.
The proposed Wiscasset Ambulance Service budget of $478,250 is the second-largest increase in the municipal budget; the budget increased 67 percent from the previous year’s budget of $286,288.
The municipal budget also includes the cost of entering into a power-purchase agreement for the installation of a solar array on municipal buildings. Despite lackluster support on the board of selectmen for powering town buildings with solar energy, selectmen agreed to put the issue before voters at the annual town meeting.
Selectmen included in the warrant an article asking to raise $81,500 to be held in escrow to cover the cost of the seventh-year buyout of the solar installation, which is part of a power-purchase agreement. Selectmen voted to raise the money now, even though it will not be needed until after 2020, so as not to tie a future board’s hands in determining the town’s budget.
For the first time in several years, donations to community organizations are back on the town meeting warrant. Voters will consider adding $8,933 to the municipal budget to support LifeFlight, Lincoln County Dental, Midcoast Maine Community Action, Eldercare Network, New Hope for Women, and Spectrum Generations.
The decision to end Wiscasset’s support for Lincoln County Television in 2015 in favor of live streaming through Town Hall Streams was reconsidered by the current board of selectmen. An appropriation of $3,000 for both Lincoln County Television and Town Hall Streams will appear on the town meeting warrant, in hopes voters will decide which they prefer.
The parks and recreation department, the single largest line item in Wiscasset’s municipal budget, reflects a nominal decrease, due to a new budgeting practice adopted by Director Todd Souza. Due to a special revenue account, which allows the department to retain the proceeds from sales, the parks and recreation department budget decreased from $742,673 in 2015-2016 to $723,263 in 2016-2017.
The new budgeting practice will allow the department to continue to reduce its budget in upcoming years, Souza said.
The proposed Wiscasset Fire Department budget of $137,173 is an increase of 25 percent from the previous year’s budget of $109,636, largely due to a request for supplemental accident insurance and paid training time.
Several department budgets, such as the town clerk and police department budgets, increased as a result of rising insurance costs and contractual obligations.
In setting the capital-improvement expenditures Tuesday, April 26, selectmen were “shooting in the dark,” Selectman Judy Flanagan said, with actual figures for many of the requests unknown. The public works department requested $200,000 for the replacement of the department’s backhoe.
Due to a recent accident involving the Wiscasset Police Department’s 2013 Dodge patrol car, a new cruiser was added to the capital-improvement list toward the end of the budget-setting process.
With figures not available for a potential five-year lease for a backhoe, or for how much insurance will pay toward the cost of replacing the police department’s vehicle, selectmen were forced to guess how much they should appropriate for the capital-improvement projects.
Selectmen agreed to place an amount not to exceed $30,000 on the warrant for both the first year payment of a five-year lease on the backhoe, and for the replacement of the police cruiser.
The remaining capital-improvement expenditures include $177,000 for paving projects at Young’s Point and in the municipal parking lots, $61,000 for completion of the replacement of the Wiscasset Community Center’s roof, and $55,000 to fix the door to the meeting room at the town office and create sleeping quarters for the ambulance service.
The Wiscasset Fire Department is requesting $28,203 in capital funds to upgrade its Jaws of Life, or extrication equipment, and the ambulance service is requesting $42,000 for new power cots and the installation of vents at the station.
Wiscasset selectmen have yet to determine how much to appropriate from surplus to offset the tax commitment and prevent or reduce a substantial hike in property taxes. The school budget and county tax bill for 2016-2017 have also increased.