HOULTON, Maine — Despite the tough economy and an anticipated loss in state revenue, town officials are cautiously optimistic that they can keep the tax rate stable next year.
During a Town Council meeting Monday evening, Town Manager Doug Hazlett presented a preliminary draft of the 2010 municipal budget. He said town officials are aiming to maintain services, invest in area roads and cope with an expected loss in state revenue without increasing taxes.
According to Hazlett, officials have drafted a more than $8.9 million budget for next year.
The manager attributed the new numbers to several factors, including a reported $66,440 increase in the town’s educational commitment to SAD 29.
The town also has seen an increase in debt after a $1 million bond taken out last year to repair local roads and sidewalks.
The town also foresees a dip in state revenue next year.
In Houlton, 88 percent of the town’s revenue comes from sources such as property and excise taxes and state revenue sharing. State revenue sharing, which is heavily affected by the economy, is expected to decrease next year.
Still, Hazlett said, revenue projections for next year “are coming in strong.”
He said revenues should increase next year due to several factors, including construction and home improvement in town, as well as improvements to commercial properties in the municipality. The town also has saved money with a change in ambulance billing providers.
During the meeting, Hazlett outlined steps taken to keep the budget as low as possible. He said that he was proposing a salary freeze for department heads and nonunion staff. He also has suggested that major capital projects be deferred.
All of this, Hazlett cautioned, is preliminary.
“We have just estimated what we will have to pay as part of the SAD 29 budget,” he said. “We do not know for sure yet. Our commitment could go up or down. We also do not know about the economy — it could recover a bit in the near future.”
A big wild card, he acknowledged, is what will happen in Augusta. He noted that the Legislature has to balance the state budget, which could mean additional cuts to cities and towns.
Despite the shaky future, Hazlett said, he feels the proposed budget “could serve the community well.”
Councilor Paul Romanelli agreed, noting he was happy to see the growth in local revenue.
“We have a lot of work to do with the budget and I want to keep taxes flat,” he said Monday. “If we can find a way to keep taxes where they are, I feel revenues will increase.”
Councilor John Fitzpatrick said he felt that “economic development and strong revenues will continue.”
“I am really excited about what is happening in this town,” he said.
The budget now goes to the board of budget review, which will look over the budget and make recommendations to the council.
The group will hold its first meeting Nov. 16.