Hampden town manager takes plunge with new budgeting approach

Posted May 21, 2012, at 11:08 p.m.

HAMPDEN, Maine — Though there was no formal budget vote and there’s still almost a month left before that happens, Monday’s Hampden Town Council meeting was longer on specifics and certainties and shorter on nebulous figures and a general concepts.

It also featured a new budgeting strategy that seemed to have broad support among the councilors.

Town Manager Susan Lessard proposed using the same budget system for the town’s Lura Hoit municipal indoor pool facility that it uses with Hampden’s Recreation Department.

That would involve the pool’s staff members being counted in the town’s budget as municipal employees, but would allow the pool to use the fund created from fees paid by pool users to pay for Hoit operating expenses such as electricity and heating.

“Between electricity and heat costs, it’s around $80,000 a year or so,” said Lessard. “Sometimes you’ll hear people say stuff like, ‘It all comes out of the same pocket,’ but technically that’s not true. Everyone pays property taxes, but only users of a system pay those fees, and not all property owners are users.”

Councilor and Mayor Janet Hughes said it was an interesting concept and Councilor Jean Lawlis called it “a great move.”

“Some people see the pool as a giant hole in the ground that we’re throwing money into,” Lessard said. “The decision to have one comes at a price, but it doesn’t mean we can’t manage it differently to have a better focus on the revenues generated from it and make sure they stay there to offset costs.”

Currently, the pool has about $339,000 in operating costs and $140,000 in fee revenue over the past year.

“I think this is a super way to go and an incentive for the pool to better manage its variable costs,” said Councilor Thomas Brann.

In other budgetary news, Lessard had some good news for councilors and residents alike. Initial estimates of mill rate increases as high as 75 cents may end up as low as 8 cents.

“When people voted for the new school, they were told by the school it would add 75 cents to the mill rate to compensate for debt service. The town said 35 cents,” Lessard said. “The school department has done an exceptional job of mitigating that impact.”

Factoring in other variables, such as savings in heating oil, salt and electricity from a milder-than-expected winter, $48,472 is left which is not covered by town projected budget figures.

“When you factor in we had new valuation of approximately $9 million, if you take it at the current mill rate, that’s approximately $143,000, which leaves $48,000 uncovered by the budget,” said Lessard. “The council can either cut the budget by that same amount, [or] decide to absorb it and increase the mill rate by 8 cents.”

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