HAMPDEN, Maine — For the second straight year, Hampden officials have proposed a municipal budget that keeps the property tax rate flat while still maintaining essential services.
The budget of $6.99 million — $3.36 million of which is supported by town taxpayers — represents a slight increase in expenses but also reflects a loss of about $200,000 in state municipal revenue sharing.
“There has been a lot of tightening going on. We’ve worked hard to maintain our level of services,” Town Manager Sue Lessard said this week. “We think $15.90 is a very competitive tax rate for the services we provide.”
Nearly half of the town’s budget accounts for the police, fire and public works departments. The total budget proposed for 2010-11 is up 1.51 percent, which equates to about $190,000. However, the town projects an additional $105,000 in taxation from new construction and the remaining $85,000 or so will be absorbed by the fund balance, Lessard said.
The budget will be on the next Town Council agenda on June 7, but a more formal public hearing will be held Monday, June 21, in advance of final adoption of the budget.
“Like everybody, we’re feeling pressure to keep budget expenses as low as we can,” Town Council chairman Matthew Arnett said. “But we have a high level of expectation about services here in town. We don’t want to shortchange residents.”
The town’s goal, set in January, was to hold off on adding any new positions and to hold the line on the property tax rate. Last year, the town needed to trim $173,000 from expenses to hold a flat tax rate. That was done by instituting a pay freeze for all town employees and closing the town office on Friday and expanding hours Monday through Thursday.
This year, the town streamlined operations at its transfer station, which created a savings of about $100,000. Last year’s pay freeze has allowed the town to institute a 3.5 percent increase this year, according to Arnett.
Since 2001, Hampden’s tax rate has dropped from $21.10 to $15.90.
Lessard said she’s proud that Hampden has been able to ride out the recent recession without burying its head in the sand. The town recently embarked on a long-overdue reconstruction of Mayo Road, has replaced hundreds of old sewer lines and has begun construction of a new Hampden Academy.
“The bottom line here is we’ve been planning for things to get worse,” Lessard said. “Right on schedule, they have been, but we’ve been prepared.”
“The town has been smart in the sense that we haven’t overreacted to recessionary times,” he said.