HAMPDEN, Maine — The Hampden Town Council wrapped up one major piece of financial business, and got a little closer to having a better handle on another one Monday night.
The council made it official Monday by unanimously approving (5-0) the mill rate at 15.9, meaning the rate will not increase for the sixth consecutive year.
“We’re very pleased to be able to maintain the tax mill rate and I think it was a bit unexpected,” said Councilor and Mayor Janet Hughes. “I think we felt the school budget with the new school would be higher than it ended up being, so that allowed us to maintain the rate within a margin of safety.”
Later on in the hour-long meeting, councilors were updated on the ongoing $25,000 environmental survey of the old Hampden Academy facility and grounds by Credere Associates of Westbrook.
“We have preliminary results from an environmental survey of the facility, and most of it is good news,” Hughes said. “We have to conduct some additional work before it’s wrapped up and we hope to have more information by the next council meeting.”
Hughes said she and Councilor Thomas Brann hope to have all seven councilors take a site tour of the old school with Credere representatives next Monday.
“Tom and I have spent many years following this, and we’re hoping the rest of the council can personally see what’s there because it’s hard to just look at a site plan and really see what the facility is,” she said.
Time is becoming more and more of a factor as the council attempts to determine how best to use the property being sold to the town by the SAD 22 school department for $86,000.
“We need to make a decision very soon on what we plan to do with the school because heating the facility this winter will be a huge cost, so we need to decide which portions of the building will be demolished,” Hughes said. “There are some environmental concerns as far as cleanup, so we need to find out what that is to keep our demolition costs in line.”
The old Hampden Academy was built and rebuilt, or added to, in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s according to Brann.
The initial target date of Aug. 30 to complete a transfer agreement with SAD 22 will not be met.
“It doesn’t look like that will occur, so we’re looking at late September or October,” Hughes said.
As far as holding the line on the mill rate, which means Hampden homeowners are being taxed $15.90 for every $1,000 of valuation on their home, Hughes and Brann credited the school department and the town’s public safety departments.
“Departments worked hard to keep their budgets down and we are running skinny,” Hughes said. “At times, people may not realize how much we’ve cut back or made cuts in the past, but we really didn’t have to do that as much this year.”
“Police and public safety came up with a very good union agreement that helped quite a bit,” Brann said.
Brann also credited the town evaluation process.
“Pretty much through the same time period, except for new construction, we’ve held the evaluation as well,” he said.
But Brann also sounded a cautionary note.
“Based on new value in the town, 80 percent of the new money went to the school and 20 percent to the town,” he said. “So even though it looks like the school didn’t have much of an impact, it created a major paradigm shift in where the money is going.
“We can’t continue to maintain things with 20 percent going to the town. You can’t keep the town functional.”