EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — The proposed $2.70 million municipal budget would cut property taxes by $27,429, but town leaders fear state revenue cuts will still leave residents facing a tax increase, they said Friday.
Cuts made in the 2011-12 budget, when town officials faced the closure of the town’s biggest taxpayer — what is now the new Great Northern Paper Co. mill — left the Board of Selectmen facing few cuts this year to keep town taxes down, Administrative Assistant Shirley Tapley said.
Voters will consider the town and school budgets in Tuesday’s town meeting. Voters approved a $2.65 million budget for the municipal government’s 2012-13 fiscal year, which ends June 30. That budget included a local tax appropriation of $1,407,813, while the budget for next year proposes to raise about $1,380,384 from local taxpayers.
However, selectmen opted to presume that East Millinocket would get $320,000 in revenue sharing funds, about the same as received in this year’s budget. That means that if revenue sharing for the town is cut next year by half, the town would face an additional $160,000 expense, Tapley said.
Town leaders have kept close watch on the Legislature and spoken to the area’s Republican representative, state Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley, but what-ifs will color all estimates of the budget’s effect on town taxpayers until Gov. Paul LePage and the Legislature finalize their budget, Tapley said.
“We don’t know what their cuts are going to be at this point,” Tapley said Friday, “so we really don’t know what our final budget will be at this point.”
Unlike Medway’s leaders, selectmen opted to go forward with the budgeting process because the law requires a set budget by July 1, and they could always cut the budget later if needed, Tapley said. Medway’s selectmen decided to carry forward the 2012-13 budget past July 1 until state leaders set their budget.
An East Millinocket increase of $160,000, coupled with the $237,787 increase that is part of the school board’s proposed $4.4 million budget, would typically increase the town’s 23.3 mill rate to about 31 mills. That would mean owners of $50,000 properties would see their taxes rise from $1,165 to $1,600.
The agreement was part of town concessions to aid the mill’s restart. Town officials are working to determine the formula for figuring a tax rate that takes Great Northern’s agreement into account, said Clint Linscott, chairman of the Board of Selectmen.
Residents might also see less funding from the state’s personal property-tax reimbursement programs, Linscott said.
Most town departments are increasingly relying upon outside revenue sources to keep going, Linscott said.
The Police Department gets funding from Medway to cover that town. The town ambulance service has an agreement to cover Lincoln that will go into effect on June 30. The town transfer station generates funds from haulers. And the town office handles school warrant articles, water and sewer bills and ambulance billing. This makes further cuts of town departments more difficult, Linscott said.
“They are all trying to do as much revenue generation as they can,” Linscott said.
“The municipal side has been cut so hard that I honestly feel we are understaffed,” Linscott said. “We have gone from 13 guys in public works to two when we should probably have four or five.”
Town and Medway leaders have been invited by Millinocket’s leaders to discuss consolidating more municipal services with Millinocket, Tapley said. The towns presently share recreation and planning services. Millinocket has its own fire, police, ambulance, library and general government services.
The consolidation meetings will probably not occur until next month, after budgets have been finalized, Tapley said.
The town meeting is set for 6 p.m. at the Schenck High School auditorium.