Brewer officials project flat tax rate

Posted May 26, 2009, at 11:56 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — Even with economic challenges, the city’s property tax rate is not changing, City Manager Steve Bost said Tuesday while presenting the city budget to the public.

“This has been one of the most challenging budgets in recent years,” he said. “First and foremost, this budget maintains a stable mill rate of $17.95 [per $1,000 of assessed property value].”

This is “despite a [$8 million] decline in property tax revenues, and while funding an increase in local schools costs and county tax as well as the first installment of debt service on the new public safety building.”

Residents should get tax bills that are carbon copies of last year’s, Karen Fussell, Brewer’s finance director, said before the meeting, pointing out that the city revalued property only in the last year that was improved.

No residents were at the public hearing while city and school officials presented their portions of the $31 million combined budget for fiscal year 2009-10.

The projected municipal budget shows an increase from $12,002,465 to $12,083,385, an increase of $80,920 or 0.67 percent over this year. The $18,162,887 draft school budget is 6.4 percent larger, or $1,093,265 more than last year’s $17,069,622 million budget, but includes $1.3 million in school construction funds for the new elementary-middle school that are being funneled through the district, Superintendent Daniel Lee said before the meeting.

Basically, “they give us the money, and we pay off the bill,” he said, saying the construction funds have inflated the budget.

“This does push up our budget increase significantly,” he said while presenting the budget. “It was a mere eight-tenths [0.8] of a percent” larger beforehand.

Of the additional construction funds, the state is paying about 93 percent, or $1.22 million, and Brewer residents are responsible for around $88,000, said Lester Young, the school department’s business manager.

The school department learned only a week or so ago that the interest payment for the construction project was to be included in this year’s budget, he said.

“We didn’t have that in there before,” Young said after the meeting. “To put that money in the budget, we had to make cuts elsewhere, mostly supplies. A big one was not doing the laptops at the high school.”

The school department also is cutting a first-grade teacher, is not replacing a high school teacher who is on extended leave, is reducing two administrative positions and is using a portion of the $266,000 in federal stimulus funds to pay for four education technicians.

“That saved us,” Lee said, referring to the stimulus money.

With the $799,880 Penobscot County assessment, which represents an $18,070 increase over last year, and with a reduction of the overlay account from $85,000 to $50,000, the total Brewer budget amounted to $31,096,152 for 2010, an overall increase of 3.87 percent.

To keep the tax rate the same, city officials cut funding for the annual civic reception, eliminated the Brewer Beacon (the city’s newsletter) and the leaf bag program, froze salaries, and decided to close the library early once a week.

“Both [the school and city] budgets are structurally sound and built on the assumption that difficult times will continue for at least the next couple of years,” Bost said. “They do not rely on accounting gimmicks or one-time savings and … should position us well to address whatever challenges come our way.”

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