HAMPDEN, Maine — For the fourth consecutive year, the Hampden town manager has presented a proposed budget that holds the tax rate flat.
Susan Lessard and the six members of the Hampden Town Council began discussing the 2011-12 budget Tuesday night, one day after discussion was postponed due to further public debate about the town’s controversial comprehensive plan.
Lessard said Wednesday that the initial discussion with councilors was positive. Two more budget workshops are scheduled for next week and another for June 1. A formal public hearing will be held at the regular Town Council meeting on June 20 followed by a vote of the council.
The draft budget of approximately $12.9 million from Lessard increases expenses by $178,901, or 1.3 percent. That increase is a result of higher fuel prices, a steep water rate increase and increases in both the county tax and the SAD 22 budget.
The town also added $8.5 million in property valuation, which translates to an additional $135,150 in property tax revenue.
The leftover increase of $43,751 could be absorbed by the town’s fund balance or the Town Council could trim expenses elsewhere. One option suggested by Lessard was reducing contributions to outside agencies, such as Eastern Area Agency on Aging, United Cerebral Palsy, the American Red Cross and others.
Hampden’s current tax rate of $15.90 is lower than the neighboring communities of Brewer, Bangor, Orono and Old Town, but higher than Hermon and Holden. Since 2001, Hampden’s tax rate has dropped from $21.10 to $15.90.
In past years, Hampden officials have been forced to take drastic measures to hold the tax rate down. Two years ago, the town cut $173,000 in expenses by freezing wages for all town employees and by closing the town office on Fridays and expanding hours Monday through Thursday.
Lessard said the 2011-12 budget was a challenge as well, but the increased property valuation helped. Additionally, debt service has been reduced as the town has paid off some loans and some reserve accounts were reduced.
Best of all, the town manager said, the proposed budget maintains services and infrastructure improvements and does not require any layoffs of municipal employees.
Of the $12.9 million in expenses, approximately $7.6 million of the budget covers municipal departments, including police, fire and public works; about $5.2 million pays Hampden’s portion of education expenses for SAD 22; and slightly more than $600,000 goes to Penobscot County.