Houlton councilors see first draft of $9 million budget

By Jen Lynds, BDN Staff
Posted Nov. 15, 2011, at 9:03 p.m.

HOULTON, Maine — While the community has not escaped the economic downturn, the town manager still was able to present a budget to the Town Council on Monday evening that is down $61,600 from last year.

Councilors got their first glimpse of next year’s $9 million budget during the half-hour meeting.

Town Manager Doug Hazlett also spoke briefly about what the financial picture for the town is projected to look like next year.

Hazlett said that the 2012 package does not contain any additional borrowing but there are some spending requests.

Hazlett proposed setting aside $135,000 to repair and replace hockey boards at the Millar Civic Center in Community Park. He also told councilors that there might be future expenses to replace the elevator at the town office, which is getting too old to remain in use.

The manager also has proposed spending $240,000 on road repairs next year. This is less than in previous years, but Hazlett said that the town has gotten ahead of its list of road projects thanks to a $1 million bond voters approved in 2009 to repair roads and sidewalks.

He said that the town expects to see a 10 percent increase in its commitment to SAD 29. The town and the school district are on different budget schedules so the municipal budget is passed as much as five months before the school budget is completed. Because of this, the town has to estimate how much it will have to commit to SAD 29.

Several years ago, the town conducted an energy audit to find ways to button up buildings and save money on energy costs. That resulted in the town purchasing energy-efficient lighting and new furnaces for several of its buildings. Hazlett said that the result has been $9,000 in annual cost savings.

In Houlton, 88 percent of the town’s revenue comes from sources including property and excise taxes, its ambulance service and state revenue-sharing money. Ambulance revenues are projected to increase next year because the number of ambulance trips is estimated to grow. State revenue sharing, which is affected by the economy, has decreased. Hazlett said he believes revenue sharing will remain flat next year.

Despite the economy, the town has seen a construction boom. Hazlett told councilors that Houlton saw $8.3 million in new construction and redevelopment as of September. That figure is up from $8 million in 2008 but down from $12.8 million in 2009.

“We have done well in terms of growing our tax base through economic development,” said Hazlett. “We have done a good job of energy efficiency in our buildings and we have maintained our work force and our level of public safety.”

Still, the manager pushed councilors to find ways to bring in additional revenue and to “sell” the town to potential visitors and businesses.

“We have to find ways to grow ourselves,” he said. “We have to let people know that we are open for business.”

A draft of the fiscal forecast will be given to the board of budget review. The board is charged with looking over the budget and making recommendations that are then passed on to the council.

The board will begin meeting in the next two weeks.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/11/15/news/aroostook/houlton-councilors-see-first-draft-of-9-million-budget/ printed on November 26, 2014