Houlton passes budget after frustrated councilor walks out

Posted Jan. 14, 2014, at 4:50 p.m.

HOULTON, Maine — During a meeting in which one of the Town Councilors walked out in frustration, the municipality passed a $9.8 million budget that will most likely raise taxes when the mill rate is set this summer.

The total $9,853,105 budget is up $133,264 over last year. That figure includes the community’s share of the Aroostook County tax and estimated portion of the RSU 29 school budget. At this point, the mill rate is $21.75 per $1,000 of valuation. The tax rate, which was set at 18.45 mills in 2010, rose to 18.95 mills in 2011 and has crept up steadily since.

Town Manager Gene Conlogue said that several factors contributed to the budget increases, including a $44,516 spike in the police department account. Three quarters of that amount was due to the municipality getting to the end of a grant that provided federal funds for the department.

Other increases were attributed to municipal employee benefits, which climbed $24,709 over last year. Conlogue said that the town is looking to freeze wage increases next year, except in instances where it is contractually obligated.

During the meeting Monday night at the Houlton Town Office, Councilor John White attempted several times to make cuts in the budget. He said he felt that the town should cut one percent off of each line item in the budget, but he got no further support from other councilors, and the motion was defeated.

There were several citizens in attendance who asked that money be kept in the budget for organizations such as the Southern Aroostook Development Corp. The council complied and did not take any money out of the SADC line item, which works as an economic development arm for the town.

After about an hour, having failed repeatedly to get fellow councilors to make cuts to the budget, a frustrated White walked out of the meeting.

“Enjoy your tax increase Houlton,” he said as he was leaving.

Councilor Dan Peabody also tried to cut $100,000 from the road paving and maintenance account as a way to decrease the budget. He won support for the measure from Councilor Wade Hanson, but it failed to win a majority vote, and the motion was defeated.

The town has to estimate what its contribution to RSU 29 will be, as the school system does not vote on its budget until June. The town estimates that it will contribute $2,449,570 to the district this year, which would be an increase of $234,540 over last year’s school budget if that were the final total.

The budget passed 4-1, with Peabody casting an opposing vote.

The tax rate is usually set in July.

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