HAMPDEN, Maine — It took some wrangling over the funding of outside nonprofit agencies, and a councilor left early for the second straight time, but the Hampden Town Council approved its 2013 budget of $3,453,572.
That translates into a total estimated taxation requirement of $9,448,840 after the SAD 22 budget and county taxation amounts are added in.
“It feels great,” said Councilor and Mayor Janet Hughes when asked her reaction after the council approved the budget 5-1 with one councilor absent. “The council worked hard tonight to get a budget that works for the community this year without any tax increase — which was our main goal.”
Councilor Jeremy Williams cast the lone dissenting vote, but said he was enthused by the process. He said he was voting no because of expected increased costs from the new Hampden Academy opening next fall.
The vote was 5-1 because Councilor Kristen Hornbrook — who said she would vote against the budget due to the funding of outside agencies and likely increased costs from the new school — left the meeting abruptly about 10 minutes before the final budget vote was taken.
Ironically, Hornbrook’s early exit preceded a new business agenda item concerning councilor attendance after a rash of excused and unexcused absences have resulted in a lack of a quorum and inability to have votes or hold sessions.
Much of Monday night’s budget talk centered around an initially proposed amount of $27,511 for outside, nonprofit agencies like the American Red Cross, Penquis CAP and Spruce Run.
“I support the outside agencies 100 percent, but in this economic climate, is it more important to keep our mill rate the same for six straight years and not cut any services in Hampden, or is it better to take a blanket approach?” said Councilor Shelby Wright. “I think we found a good compromise by working together and doing some solid, progressive work.”
Councilors first approved a spending cap of $20,000 for outside agency funding, and then approved $12,735 for American Red Cross, Hampden Historical Society, Hammond Street Senior Center, Eastern Area Agency on Aging and Hampden Garden Club. They then cut funding proposals in half for Penquis, Spruce Run and Downeast Horizons — for now.
“That remaining $7,000-8,000 will be moved forward and, if we have the funds, or more than that, available, we will review and possibly fund those other agencies as time goes,” Hughes explained.
Hughes said Monday’s debates, proposals and counterproposals wouldn’t have been needed if a scheduled public council budget review session hadn’t been canceled due to lack of a quorum two weeks ago, when two councilors were absent and Hornbrook left before the meeting ended.
“The budget review session is specifically for the council to review all line items and review things they may have an issue with, so we never had that chance,” Hughes said.
Still, councilors seemed pleased with the end result.
“My first budget vote was only a week after I got elected last year, so this really was my first nuts-and-bolts budget process, and I think that says it all. It’s a nuts-and-bolts process,” Wright said. “We have to think about services and how they benefit society as a whole and the community of Hampden and I think the council tonight did a great job of looking at that big picture and making solid decisions that we can move forward positively with.”