Brownville budget strategy: Ask residents to prioritize

Posted Jan. 19, 2010, at 12:35 a.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:06 p.m.

BROWNVILLE, Maine — Town officials are trying an innovative way to determine the importance of municipal services to residents as revenues continue to shrink and the demands on limited property tax dollars increase.

With a $70,000 revenue loss last year, which is expected to be matched this year, town officials have asked residents to tell them whether they want taxes to increase in order to keep municipal services at the status quo, or, if they want taxes reduced, what should go.

If the services remain as is, a resident whose taxable house value is $80,000 would see an increase of $104.80 to fund the shortfall.

“What the board really wants to know is: Given the fact we’ve got a $70,000 shortfall, do people want to keep our services the same and eat the difference in the tax bill — meaning your tax bill will go up — or do you want the board to work really hard to bring a draft budget back to town meeting that has service cuts in it that will keep your tax bill, at least for the municipal side, with no increase?” Town Manager Sophia Wilson told more than 100 residents at a public hearing last Wednesday.

At the meeting, residents were handed surveys to complete allowing them to indicate their priorities for municipal services, from the library to the purchase of trophies for recreation programs to the Police Department.

Since the town already supports the Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Department, one resident suggested that the county be asked to fill a police shift or two to reduce local costs.

If the Sheriff’s Department provides coverage, the town will end up paying more, Wilson said.

“Trust me, I watched very closely when Milo looked at the possibility of contracting with the sheriff,” she said. “We put an officer on the street and pay for the vehicles at a fraction of the price that the county can do it.”

While the Sheriff’s Department responds to emergencies when needed, Wilson said, it has been clear that it would not station someone in the Brownville area.

Another resident suggested that Brownville and Milo combine forces as they have done in the past.

“Milo and Brownville get along great and when we get along, it’s wonderful, and when we don’t, it’s horrible,” Wilson replied. “We are a great family. When we talk about putting structures together, the biggest issue that we stumble over is who is going to be responsible, who is going to be in charge and how are we going to equitably pay for it.”

The only way it would work, she said, is if one of the towns eliminated its police force and contracted with the other.

Discussions also were held on the possibility of eliminating recreation programs and the maintenance of fire lanes in Brownville Junction, the implementation of a pay-per-bag fee for household garbage, reducing streetlights and reducing staffing levels in the town office.

The feedback from the survey will help selectmen gain a better understanding of the community’s priorities and desires before a draft budget is prepared, Wilson said.

She said the board will “carefully consider survey responses and comments from residents and weigh them along with existing laws, contractual obligations and standards of operation in making recommendations to be considered by voters” at the March town meeting.

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