Houlton budget review board backs hike in road repair funds

Posted Jan. 05, 2010, at 9:27 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:36 a.m.

HOULTON, Maine — The budget review board put its finishing touches on the 2010 budget Monday, recommending an increase in the amount the town sets aside for road repair.

“The board recommended that we fund the roads account at a full mill, which would be $267,000,” said Town Manager Douglas Hazlett. “Frankly, I agree with it. I think it can be done.”

The board recommended the increase to maintain roads after major repaving and reconstruction projects last year.

Hazlett presented a draft of the more than $8.9 million budget in November. The board is charged with looking over the budget and making recommendations that are then passed on to the Town Council. The board has met several times since late November.

The board’s only major recommended change involved the road repair funding.

A town ordinance says 1 mill of the budget must be dedicated each year for road repair. The town, however, got out of the practice of fully funding the roads account for several years.

Last March, voters approved a $1 million bond that funded the reconstruction and repaving of dozens of roads and sidewalks. The bond is expected to be repaid over 20 years.

“The board recognizes that we just sank a lot of money into our roads and we need to maintain them,” Hazlett said. “The ordinance calls for it, and our revenues have been good, so I think it is possible to fund the roads account fully.”

Hazlett said town officials took a number of steps to keep the budget as low as possible this year. A salary freeze for department heads and nonunion staff has been proposed, as well as deferring major capital projects.

Hazlett said the town saw a nearly $300,000 dip in state revenue. 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, has decreased.

“Despite that, our revenues still increased because of our increasing town valuation and improved ambulance revenues,” he said. “That gives us a bit more breathing room to fund the roads account at the full mill.”

The town still does not know what it will have to pay as part of its commitment to SAD 29. Hazlett said the town has budgeted as if it will have to increase the commitment approximately 3 percent over last year.

Hazlett said he couldn’t yet say whether the town would be able to hold the mill rate this year.

“We won’t know until June or July,” he said Tuesday. “I think that it looks good right now, but the unknown is what the state will do to balance its budget and how that will affect us. If they make cuts that affect our revenues, that changes things.”

The council will hold a public hearing and vote on the budget Jan. 25.

Hazlett said he is optimistic the budget will pass.

“If there were any serious issues, I think they would have come up by now,” he said Tuesday.

jlynds@bangordailynews.net

538-6567

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