June 21, 2018
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Ongoing state budget battle prompts delay of Hampden budget vote

By Dawn Gagnon, BDN Staff

HAMPDEN, Maine — A special Town Council meeting set for Monday night for the purpose of adopting the proposed $6.8 million municipal budget for 2013-14 has been canceled due to the ongoing state budget impasse in Augusta.

Instead, the councilors will consider adopting the budget during their next regular meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, July 1, Town Manager Susan Lessard said.

“The state of the state budget is still in flux,” Lessard said about the decision to cancel Monday’s meeting. She said that the town may have a better handle on how much it can expect in state funding by the time the council meets.

At issue are some of the provisions in Gov. Paul LePage’s biennial budget plan that calls for deep cuts to — and in some cases the temporary suspension of — such programs as state revenue sharing and the homestead and circuit breaker property tax exemptions.

On Monday afternoon, LePage vetoed a compromise budget sent to him June 13 by the Legislature, setting the stage for key override votes this week in the Maine House and Senate.

If either chamber fails to reach the two-thirds vote threshold, the veto will be sustained, leaving the state without a budget for the two-year fiscal cycle that begins July 1 which in turn could lead to a state shutdown.

Lessard said that this is the first time during her 13 years of budget development here that Hampden has not approved a budget by the third week of June.

Given the state revenue uncertainties, town officials developed a $6,844,149 spending plan that is $282,000 — or 4 percent — lower than this year’s budget, Lessard noted during a public hearing last week.

Despite the reduced municipal operating budget, the town is still projecting an increase in the property tax rate.

That’s because the town’s local share of the $28.3 million school budget voters approved for SAD 22 requires $5.68 million in local tax dollars, an increase of 6.6 percent from this year. In addition, the county tax bill came in at $731,537, up 5.2 percent from this year.

Hampden officials have taken several steps to reduce operating costs, including not giving pay raises to nonunion employees, slashing the annual paving budget in half and changing the police department’s vehicle replacement program from every year to every two years, at least for now, she said.

However, during the SAD 22 school budget hearing earlier this month, district voters increased the school budget by approximately $142,000 in an apparent attempt to save some of the teaching positions targeted for elimination in the coming school year.

For Hampden, which is responsible for 63 percent of the district’s local share, that amounts to an increased local burden of roughly $89,000, which in turn would result in an increase of 16 cents per $1,000 in property valuation.

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