ORONO, Maine — Orono town councilors are in the process of sifting through the 2011-12 proposed municipal and school budget, which at the moment shows a tax rate increase of 60 cents.
The $14.9 million budget submitted by Town Manager Sophie Wilson actually increases expenditures by $1.6 million over the previous year, but those numbers are misleading. Revenues are projected to increase by $1.3 million over 2010-11 as well.
Wilson said the unusually high increases in both expenses and revenues have to do with shifting some elements into the budget that had not been there in the past. For instance, she said, the town has for years been saving money to support certain capital improvement and economic development projects that are now included in the next fiscal year’s budget.
Those items — including the redevelopment of the old Webster Mill and plans for a proposed business park off Kelley Road — are now included as new expenses, but the revenue associated with the projects still exists penny for penny.
After those adjustments though, the 2011-12 budget still would require an additional $126,015 from local taxpayers, an increase that is a result of higher insurance and fuel costs and a commitment to some minor capital improvements.
“Capital improvements are incredibly important to keep Orono moving forward as a community,” Wilson said. “The alternative is waiting 10 years and spending five times as much on improvements.”
From 2008-09 to 2009-10, Orono’s tax rate jumped from $19.70 to $20.80 per $1,000 of property valuation. Last year, the tax rate dropped to $20.75. As proposed, next year’s tax rate would be $21.35.
Wilson said the challenge in Orono and many other towns is to maintain the same level of services residents are used to without increasing taxes too much. Councilors last year transferred some funds from the town’s undesignated fund balance to hold the tax rate down, and they have that option again this year.
At the moment, the town manager’s proposed 2011-12 budget is still in flux because the RSU 26 board of directors has not completed its budget. RSU 26 is composed of Orono, Glenburn and Veazie, and Orono’s share — $4.9 million — is included in Wilson’s budget numbers at the same level as the current fiscal year.
The RSU 26 budget will be approved later this month but also requires voter approval at a referendum scheduled for June 14.
The Town Council is expected to hold a series of workshops in the coming weeks to discuss the budget in greater detail and also will host a public hearing on June 13. Councilors will then vote on the budget at the June 20 meeting.