Eastport budget hinges on state revenue fate

Posted May 18, 2009, at 8:32 p.m.

EASTPORT, Maine — While other towns are groaning under the strain of trying to put together a municipal budget in the face of state revenue cuts, Eastport is in pretty good shape — for now.

The proposed 2009-10 budget is $5,173,828, or $29,377 more than the 2008-09 budget, representing a .06 percent increase from the current fiscal year, City Manager George “Bud” Finch said last week.

“With adjustments in expenses and revenues, this brings the amount to be raised by local property taxes to $2,454,866, up $92,994, or 3.9 percent. When offset by a variety of changes in property valuations, the mill rate would remain at $20.20 as it is the current year,” he explained.

Finch said the budget process in Eastport is ongoing.

“We continually monitor current budget expenses and revenues, comparing them against budgets of years gone by and projecting them against future budgets,” Finch added. “The budget process in Eastport typically begins in November when the council provides budget guidance in terms of amount to be raised in taxes. In the following months, the department heads put together their lists of wants and needs in order to create a budget proposal for the council at the February meeting, followed by budget workshops in April and budget approval in early May.”

But not this year.

Finch said this year’s budget was problematic because of uncertain state revenues. “This fiscal year, we are faced with the most complex budget process we have had to deal with in years, as the impact of the economy has hit heavily on the nonproperty tax side of the budget revenue stream,” he said. “Without solid data from the state in terms of funding streams for the budget, the issue has become less about increased expenses and more about decreased revenues.”

The city remains in a holding pattern. “We do expect within the next couple of weeks to have more firm numbers available, and at this point expect nothing that is going to make us or the local property taxpayers happy. The state’s concept of balancing their budget by reducing revenues to municipalities is little more than a tax shift. We will reduce the impact of these revenue losses, but it needs to be known and understood that reduced levels of service will be necessary to do so,” he said.

Finch also said he was still waiting to see what the final figures would be for the city’s school budget. “Our plan right now is to go into the budget workshop for the municipal and school budgets within the next few weeks,” he said. “The budget workshop, public hearings and budget approval dates will be announced within the week, and will fall into the June time frame in order to meet the July 1st fiscal calendar year start.”

The future may not be all doom and gloom. “There is hope, ever so slightly, that the revenue cuts from Augusta to the municipal and educational budgets will be less than currently projected, but as I have noted, slight hope. In addition, we will be faced with possible future cuts in excise tax following the November elections, where a citizens initiative will address the amount a municipality can collect. Excise tax is totally devoted to offsetting the public works departments’ cost of maintaining roads.”

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