Nobleboro voters will weigh in on municipal and education budget increases driven by new costs and projects at annual town meeting on Saturday, March 18.
Voters will consider a $1,472,764 municipal budget, an increase of $269,245 or 22.37%, from the previous year, as recommended by the select board and budget committee. The need to keep roads maintained and hire and retain qualified town administrators, along with payments on a new fire truck and a revaluation contract, were cited as factors in the increase.
The road maintenance budget within the roads and highways warrant article is $110,000, an increase of $21,000 or 23.59%. The road paving budget line is $300,000, an increase of $100,000 or 50%.
Select board Chair Dick Spear said at a February meeting that the town’s recent comprehensive plan survey found roads were the biggest concern for residents. Nobleboro Road Commissioner Dale Wright said maintenance has been sacrificed for years to keep taxes down.
“The roads are suffering terribly, and we can’t keep up,” he said.
In addition to deferred maintenance, according to Wright, material costs have risen. Hot top asphalt for road repairs, for example, is so expensive that his increased budget request will cover almost the same amount of road repairs as previous years.
Winter road maintenance, which includes the town snowplow contract and salt and sand purchases, is $225,000, an increase of $38,313 or 20.52%. Of the increase, $17,509.68 is in the salt purchase line.
In the town office, administration costs have increased to hire and retain staff, according to Spear. This year’s budget line is $247,769, an increase of $18,569 or 8.10%.
Two shorter-term costs have also added to the budget this year, the first being a payment on a fire engine for $57,118.
Another line item for $35,000 will cover the first installment of a $140,000 revaluation contract to KRT Appraisals LLC, of Haverhill, Mass. The revaluation could complete by the spring of 2025.
According to select board member Richard Powell, who said he advocated for the revaluation, state homestead exemption funds are reduced for residents when the town valuation falls below the state’s figures. Nobleboro’s valuation is currently at 76% of the state’s and likely to drop again next year, Powell said.
The town was last reevaluated 17 years ago, and the state recommends five to 10 years. A revaluation is designed to distribute the tax burden equitably.
A $4,570,368.21 education budget, an increase of $330,962.64 or 7.81%, was recommended in early February following revisions removing over $92,000. The budget committee requested the school committee cut $100,000.
“We were unanimous that we went as far as we could go without hindering operations,” school committee member Michael Ward said.
Nobleboro’s education budget has risen with increased expenses and decreased revenue for Nobleboro Central School while also dealing with inflation, according to AOS 93 Business Manager Peter Nielsen. Revenue dropped over $300,000 while costs rose.
“Everything else is up 10%, but the school is up 7.81%. I’d say we’re doing pretty well in Nobleboro,” he said.
Drivers of the education budget increase included special education programs, student and staff support, the addition of a full-time school nurse position, and capital renewal and renovation projects for the aging school building.
More than a third of this year’s budget increase comes from special education costs, which Nielsen said are rising faster than inflation.
The need for these services has also increased, leading the district to add new educational technicians in the Compass and Pathways programs, which are shared by students across AOS 93. The district has also added another van route to transport students to these programs.
Special education costs total $965,454.83, an increase of $130,737.18 or 15.66%, while regular instruction is $2,212,030.31, an increase of $46,415.31 or 2.14%.
A staff nurse position, which includes health insurance and additional benefits, had to be added this year after a previous staffing partnership with LincolnHealth had become unsustainable. With this change, the student and staff support cost center is $287,835.86, an increase of $50,885.91 or 21.48%.
Work on the school building under the capital renewal and renovation line, which Nielsen said is a constant, totals $349,671.37, an increase of $63,685.14 or 22.27%.
Nielsen said the increase of the budget for taxpayers is also caused by reduced revenue. The school uses revenue from state subsidies and extra funds unused from previous years.
State special education subsidies are based on the prior year’s enrollment, according to Nielsen, and student numbers were lower last year. While numbers have since risen, the increase not reflected because of the subsidy program’s structure. This year, that revenue line is $403,668.32, a decrease of $101,200.13 or 20.04%.
The unassigned balance, money budgeted in previous years but not used and thus rolled forward, is also lower this year with $100,000 available, a decrease of $200,000 or 66.67%.
“It’s two-fold,” Nielsen said. “Less revenue and more expenses, which compounds the problem.”
The select board and budget committee recommend using $320,000 in excise tax, $36,000 from the Local Road Assistance program, and $540,000 from undesignated surplus to fund the budget this year. The excise use is the same at 2022, and the surplus use has increased by $170,000 or 45.9%.
This additional surplus use will mean a less steep increase in taxes, according to Spear, despite the overall budget increase.
Spear said in February that more surplus is available because the town did not use any in 2022. The reserve now totals $720,000. The use recommended this year will bring its balance back down to $550,000, where Spear said it typically rests.
If voters approve the budget as proposed, the town will have to raise $256,186 through taxes.
In addition to the budget, Nobleboro voters will elect one select board member and one school committee member for three-year terms and one road commissioner for a two year term.
Richard Powell is running for reelection to a third consecutive term on the select board against Jason Hopkins. Road Commissioner Dale Wright is running for reelection to a third consecutive term against Matt Benner.
Candidate profiles for these contested races are available on page 5.
Rhea Butler is running unopposed for reelection to the Nobleboro School Committee.
The Nobleboro municipal candidate election will be held on from noon to 6 p.m. on Friday, March 17 in the town office conference room. The annual town meeting will begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 18 in the Nobleboro Central School gymnasium.