CARIBOU, Maine — Councilors approved a revised $8,698,999 expense and revenue budget this week intended to keep any property tax increase at a minimum.
As presented by City Manager Austin Bleess during the April 28 City Council meeting, the budget amount is lower than last year’s $8,894,532 and the 2012-13 budget of $9,156,014.
“The revenue sharing amount for 2014 is $171,030 lower than what it was for 2013,” Bleess explained. “This is also about $1 million less than what it would be if the state had kept its promise to the citizens of Maine and fully funded revenue sharing.”
Last year’s budget came with a mill rate of 20.5, and the majority of city councilors were emphatic about holding this year’s mill increase to a maximum of 1.4.
Bleess emphasized multiple times that there are still too many variables — like the County tax and the RSU 39 commitment — to establish an accurate mill rate for 2014.
The newly approved $8,698,999 budget comes with a suggested mill rate of 21.9 — exactly 1.4 mils higher than last year.
“With the reduction in revenue sharing, which the state does not look like they will share for much longer, and the use of one-time funds in revenue and cutting of capital reserves, we are going to have to make tough choices for future budgets as to what services are going to be reduced or eliminated or how high of a mill rate the city is willing to tolerate, or what revenues we can try to generate,” Bleess said.
Much of the $142,745 reduced from the budget since the council’s April 8 meeting was realized by tapping reserve accounts — something Mayor Gary Aiken was not enthusiastic about.
“We’re just playing games with numbers, putting it off for another year,” he said. “[We’re] holding the mill rate at a certain level this year, but next year it’s going to increase twice as much if we didn’t hold it this year — that’s what it amounts to.”
Bleess reiterated that’s why the city needs to look at the budget and, at some point, make some tough decisions as to what services need to be reduced or eliminated, or how high of a mill rate the city wants to tolerate.
Councilors Shane McDougall and David Genthner opposed the revised budget.
“Since I’ve gotten on council, the only thing I hear is ‘we need to cut taxes, we need to lower the mill rate,’ and through this whole process it’s been ‘cut a thousand dollars here, $500 there,’” McDougall described. “I think it’s time the city makes fundamental changes on what services are needed and required,” he said, suggesting the possibility of combining certain city services. “We’ve plucked everything off the budget that we have now. There’s no more fat to trim, so if the mill rate’s going to go down, there’s only one thing you need to do, and that’s cut services — which I know isn’t a popular thing.”