Old Town council considers $8.4M budget

Posted April 16, 2010, at 10:50 p.m.

OLD TOWN, Maine — The Old Town City Council this week began consideration of City Manager Peggy Daigle’s proposed $8.4 million municipal budget for 2010-2011. The proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 seeks to maintain current municipal services and staffing without increasing property taxes. It calls for no increases in municipal salaries other than contractual step increases, a reduction in city funding for operations at the municipal pool and other cost-saving measures.

It also relies on tapping almost $1 million from the city’s rainy day account, leaving only about $800,000 in that fund.

“Normally, we would protect the fund balance account” for emergencies, Daigle said during the council’s initial review on Tuesday evening. But Daigle said she is confident that investments in economic development, including upgrades at the city airport, will fuel new tax revenues in the coming year.

Councilor Jamie Dufour questioned some of those investments, including an $84,000 allocation for a new city economic development manager that was eliminated later in the week. Additional changes will be considered at future meetings, with the first official reading of the budget slated for the regular council meeting on Monday, May 3.

In a 4-2 vote at its meeting Thursday night, the council approved a $1 million upgrade to the Airport Access Road, paving the way for anticipated development at the municipal airport. The motion to accept a $992,706 bid from the S.E. MacMillan Co. of Bangor split council members who were prepared to move forward with the long-planned upgrade from those who argued against spending the money during a time of economic hardship.

The road improvement project is considered an essential step in developing lots at the airport for a business park, a plan that has been in the works for at least 10 years. It includes rebuilding the 3,000-foot, two-lane road from Route 43 to the existing terminal building at Dewitt Field, constructing a new pump station capable of delivering sewage from future business facilities to an existing treatment plant and improving lighting and parking. In addition to the contracted project, the city will pay for installing an underground natural gas pipeline along the length of the road at a cost of $35,400. The funds will be drawn from a special economic development account funded with payments from the operations of the Juniper Ridge Landfill.

Dufour said the idea of tapping the economic development fund for the airport road project gave him “heartburn,” especially when paired with the pending proposal to use $1 million from the fund balance account to avoid raising taxes for the 2010-2011 municipal budget.

But council member Bill Lovejoy said the two issues should be considered separately.

“If we elect not to do the road, we’re just going to leave another million dollars in the [economic development account],” he said.

Dufour voted against the measure along with council member Carol May. Voting in favor of moving forward with the project were members Lovejoy, Scott LaFlamme, David Fiacco and Chairman David Mahan.

The council voted in unanimous support of authorizing a $3,500 environmental assessment at the former Old Town Canoe production plant on Middle Street. Only $500 of city money will be spent on the project, with the balance provided by Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

The city is considering acquiring the Old Town Canoe property, which is now vacant, in an effort to spur its redevelopment. The site assessment is needed to determine the costs and liabilities of remediating any soil contamination and other hazards associated with the 150-year-old manufacturing site. Old Town Canoe recently consolidated its operations at its new facility on Gilman Falls Avenue.

In a special workshop session, the council also considered proposed changes to operations and budgeting for the municipal pool at Old Town High School and heard a presentation on new state legislation making it possible for municipalities to help fund business and homeowner energy conservation projects. They also reviewed the planned renovation of the former Bangor Savings Bank building on Main Street in preparation for its conversion to City Hall office space.

At the end of the evening, Finance Committee members voted unanimously to recommend that the full council accept a $214,000 bid for the City Hall renovations along with additional costs of $168,766 for building security, the installation of new public access television equipment, the conversion of the boiler to natural gas and other expenses. If approved by the full council at its May 3 meeting, the funds would be withdrawn from a special City Hall Reserve account that contains $459,326.

The proposed 2010-2011 budget and other documents may be viewed at the city’s Web site, www.old-town.org.

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