MILLINOCKET, Maine — Looming state funding reductions could leave local taxpayers with a $350,000 shortfall that could force property tax increases or cut into town services deeply, Town Manager Eugene Conlogue says.
Speaking for more than 30 minutes during a Town Council meeting Thursday, Conlogue played early warning system and mechanic for the council and taxpayers, outlining the reasoning behind his predictions and suggesting moves councilors can make if he’s right.
His message: Brace yourselves.
“We have a continuing problem with state revenue sharing,” Conlogue said. “You are easily going to get $250,000 less than what was budgeted. … Instead of us getting $700,000, you could be in the neighborhood of $400,000 to $450,000. That’s a huge budget gap.”
Taxpayers should not be fooled when Gov. John Baldacci and state legislators threaten to cut budgets, Councilor Michael Madore said.
“All they have done is shift the tax burden from themselves to the local governments. … I am very disappointed with Augusta for this,” Madore said, calling it “pass-the-buck politics.”
Conlogue and town department heads seek cost cuts that could occur this fiscal year, which ends June 30, to save money for next year, he said.
“I don’t believe that we should be asking local taxpayers to pick up the local tab of whatever Augusta foists on us,” he said. “We have to make a real effort here to reduce costs.”
Conlogue reviewed the budget performance of the first half of fiscal year 2009-10 and pinpointed areas where cuts could be made, including:
ä The capital expenditures, paving and outside agency budgets. Most capital improvements, including a $400,000 energy plant upgrade at the town office, are already paid for, but the other budgets total about $180,000.
The paving budget has $150,000 for streets and $25,000 for sidewalk replacement or repair. The outside agency account, which helps civic organizations ranging from the Boy Scouts to the American Red Cross, usually runs about $30,000, Conlogue said.
ä Reduce hours of operation in several departments or reduce or eliminate several staff positions. Conlogue made no specific recommendations.
Madore and Councilor Jimmy Busque liked this option the least.
ä Provide a wage increase of up to 3 percent for nonunion staff with a possible cap on nonunion workers on the upper end of the pay scale of perhaps $500, enough to cover health insurance cost increases.
Town union contracts run another 1½ years and call for annual 3 percent raises.
ä Adopt a 5 percent franchise fee for cable television service, which would generate $20,000, and adopt a transfer site sticker fee of $25 annually, which could generate as much as $45,000.
Councilors disliked the former and agreed with Conlogue that the latter was “dead before it was born.”
The town could see money in savings from the town office upgrade and from vehicle excise taxes, Conlogue said. The latter could produce up to an additional $150,000 in revenue, he said.
Still, the picture is bleak, council Chairman Scott Gonya said. He predicted that few residents would run for office in November.
“Why would anybody want these jobs? It’s nothing but bad news,” he said.