HAMPDEN, Maine — Town leaders approved an approximately $6.8 million municipal budget for fiscal year 2013-14 Monday — the last day allowed by the town charter — and residents heard the tax rate is projected to increase because the cost of education has gone up.
“A lot of people don’t realize we don’t have any control over the school budget,” Town Council Chairwoman Janet Hughes said. “We receive a bill.”
Town Manager Sue Lessard had just finished presenting a breakdown of the budget, which shows a 4.2 percent decrease on the municipal end, but increases in both the school department (6.5 percent) and county (5.2 percent) budgets.
The increases trump the decrease and the town is still projecting a 65-cent increase in the property tax rate to make up the difference, she said.
Part of the reason for the rate hike is an 11th-hour increase in the local share of the SAD 22 school budget that residents demanded at the district budget meeting, held June 6. Residents voted to put $142,401 back into the budget in order to restore funding for some or all of the teaching positions eliminated by SAD 22 school officials.
At the next town meeting, Councilor Thomas Brann made a motion to pass the school budget increase along to property taxpayers, who will see it reflected in their tax bills, and was unanimously supported by his fellow councilors. Brann was vocal on Monday about his displeasure with the school department.
“SAD 22 was very happy to put the money back but they refuse to spend it the way provided for by the voters,” he said. “I think that’s sad. That’s, to me, pathetic.”
Hughes suggested that upset taxpayers attend the school board meetings to voice their concerns.
“Nearly 60 percent of every tax dollar you pay goes to education,” Lessard said.
SAD 22 includes the communities of Hampden, Newburgh, Winterport and Frankfort, and Hampden is responsible for 63 percent of the district’s costs.
“Part of the school board increase is due to a shift in the percentage, which is based on property valuations and population,” Lessard said after the meeting.
The town’s budget is $6.8 million; Hampden’s share of the $28.3 million SAD 22 budget is $5.68 million or about $89,000 more; and the county tax bill is $731,537.
Councilors also voted to add about $8,800 from a reserve account to provide a 1.1 percent raise to those in the police and fire departments who didn’t get one through the town’s union contracts. They also voted to leave the outside agency budget line empty, which upset some councilors, who listed the benefits the outside agencies provide for residents, but who also conceded that town coffers could not afford the expense this year.
“I understand why we’re not funding these, [but] it’s hard to justify,” Councilor Jean Lawlis said. The list of programs, which includes the senior center, the Hampden garden club and Meals on Wheels, provide “a very large benefit for many people in difficult situations. Next year, I’ll fight a little harder for these outside agencies.”