June 19, 2018
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School costs, changes at Verso mill to adversely affect Bucksport budget

By Kevin Miller, BDN Staff

BUCKSPORT, Maine — Preliminary figures suggest that Bucksport may be facing a $375,000 shortfall in next fiscal year’s municipal budget, in part because of rising education costs and the loss of tax revenues from a mothballed paper machine at the Verso mill.

Town Manager Roger Raymond said Thursday night that although those are early projections, he doesn’t expect the gap between revenues and expenditures to shrink.

“I suspect you will not have a better scenario than $375,000,” Raymond told members of the Town Council.

At the current level, Bucksport residents could be looking at a mill rate increase from 4.5 mills to 5.0 for the fiscal year that begins July 1, Raymond said. Other cost-saving options include reducing services, increasing fees or scaling back on capital improvements.

Raymond said he included an additional $150,000 in the budget to cover anticipated increases in Bucksport’s obligation to RSU 25.

Jim Boothby, superintendent of RSU 25, said the school system is losing $300,000 in federal stimulus dollars next fiscal year. Bucksport’s valuation also increased slightly, although the pupil count from town fell.

Boothby said the school system expects to save more than $100,000 by converting its heating systems from oil to natural gas — a plan that is contingent on Bangor Gas Co. completing the tentative agreement to expand the natural gas lines into downtown. But the superintendent said he will not have more concrete figures until the Legislature completes its work on the state budget.

Bucksport also expects to lose $155,000 as a result of changes at the Verso Paper mill. Verso’s decision to shut down a papermaking machine last year will result in an estimated $80,000 loss in tax revenues tied to the value of that machine. Additionally, the town anticipates losing $75,000 due to tax increment financing for a new biomass project planned at the plant, Raymond said.

A 3 percent salary increase for town employees will add another $70,000, which will be partially offset by a reduction in health insurance coverage that staff agreed to accept, he said.

Town officials will have until mid-June to complete work on the municipal budget under a new timeline approved by residents in November. Boothby said RSU 25’s first budget workshop will be held Feb. 1.

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