Berwick budget plan could raise tax rate 76 cents

Posted March 19, 2011, at 12:32 p.m.

BERWICK, Maine — Residents could see another jump in their taxes should the current $9.2 million fiscal year 2012 budget proposal pass as is.

The current budget for the upcoming fiscal year calls for $9,180,891.37 in the general fund, which is $650,716.43 more than the current year’s $8,530,174.94 budget.

Town Manager Keith Trefethen said this version of the 2012 budget — if no changes are made by the Board of Selectmen and voters pass it as-is at this year’s Town Meeting — would increase the town’s $12.80 per $1,000 of valuation tax rate by 76 cents to $13.56, once revenues are taken into account.

This means a resident with a $200,000 home could expect to pay about $2,712 in taxes, which is $152 higher than the current year’s estimated $2,560 paid in taxes.

The tax rate increase would be more than twice as much as the increase from fiscal year 2010 to fiscal year 2011, which is the current fiscal year; from last year to this year, selectmen increased the tax rate 30 cents from $12.50 to $12.80.

Among the budget lines contributing to 2012′s overall increase is the rising cost of health and dental insurance, which are increases surrounding communities also face. These costs increase each Berwick department’s budget by at least a few thousand dollars, and some departments also have proposed full-time and/or part-time wage increases.

The fire department has one of the largest proposed overall increases. If passed as-is, the fire department’s budget would increase by $106,710 to $572,305 in fiscal year 2012. That increase is due in part to wage and benefit increases, including $61,788 in wage increases to full-time staff and an $8,406 increase in health insurace costs.

The police department also has a large proposed overall increase, as its proposed 2012 budget is $1,281,954, or $84,060 higher than the current year. That increase is due in part to wage and benefit increases, including $14,066 in wage increases to full-time staff and a $13,458 increase in health insurance costs.

The public works budget also has similar wage and benefit increases, increasing its proposed budget for fiscal 2012 to $700,337, which is $34,629 higher than the current year.

There is also a $50,000 increase in the transportation and roads budget line, increasing the line from $200,000 to $250,000. Selectmen are requesting that money be appropriated for road, bridge and sidewalk construction and repairs during the upcoming fiscal year.

This item, as well as the various department budgets, will be decided by the public through warrant articles during this year’s town meeting.

Another item which will be decided through a warrant article is whether the selectmen will raise and appropriate $65,000 for a town buildings capital reserve account, which would be used to make repairs to municipal buildings.

A special committee had already been created in order to evaluate town-owned structures, and reported to the selectmen on Tuesday that among the highest priorities for repairs should be the exterior water sealing issue at the fire station and the replacement of the community center’s roof.

Civil Consultants of South Berwick is also currently performing a structural analysis of the fire station, which will help provide a cost estimate as well as a guide for all necessary repairs at that facility, said Trefethen.

Selectman Bob Crichton, the chairman of the special building committee, also suggested during his committee’s report Tuesday the capital reserve account should be maintained each year and said the town should frequently monitor all of its buildings and list the needed repairs in order of priority, beginning with the community center and fire station.

Crichton said this would allow the town, when money is available, to take preventive steps and fix problems so no buildings are “pushed aside” or deteriorate due to a lack of repairs, which he said is the reason why the fire station is having mold and structural cracking issues now.

“We need to get these buildings up and operated because we haven’t done anything in a number of years,” he said. “You don’t do that in your own home, so why should municipal facilities be left in that boat?”

The final scheduled budget workshop is on Tuesday, March 22, at 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall, although Trefethen said Thursday, March 24, has been identified as another possible workshop date should selectmen desire more time.

The public hearing on the budget and warrant articles is scheduled for Tuesday, March 29, at 6:30 p.m.

This is the last time changes and suggestions can be made, as the selectmen are expected to take action during a public meeting immediately following this hearing. Trefethen said that action must happen on March 29 so the warrant is ready for the May 10 and May 11 portions of the annual town meeting.

Copyright (c) 2011, Foster’s Daily Democrat, Dover, N.H.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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