Lincoln bracing for possible layoff of firefighters, clerks as budget process continues

A reduced town budget could result in two Lincoln firefighters being laid off from the department, according to town officials.
A reduced town budget could result in two Lincoln firefighters being laid off from the department, according to town officials.
Posted May 06, 2014, at 5:31 p.m.

LINCOLN, Maine — Lincoln’s town government would lay off four workers, including two firefighters, and leave two positions unfilled under a $3.8 million municipal budget being compiled, officials said Tuesday.

The firefighters, a part-time library clerk and another part-time town clerk would be laid off. An empty police officer’s position and an unfilled part-time library clerk’s position would be left unfilled, Town Manager William Lawrence said.

Lawrence said that while the budget process is incomplete, he wanted to caution residents to expect longer lines in the town office and library and possibly see slower response times from police and firefighters should the cuts be affirmed by the Town Council next month.

“It is not a great situation, but it can be done. When you reduce a budget like this, you do have the potential for a reduction of services,” Lawrence said Tuesday. “The reduced response times [with police and firefighters] might not happen, I don’t know, but it could.”

“Lincoln is on good, solid financial ground, and we want to keep it that way,” he added. “With our reserve and investment accounts in good shape, we don’t want to go to the till and drain those accounts. We are trying to protect those and keep services intact.”

If left unfilled, the empty police position would leave one officer patrolling Lincoln on most nights. Public Safety Director Dan Summers could offset the loss with part-time officers. State police and Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department deputies also ride through town and assist town police on calls regularly, Lawrence said.

The two cut firefighter positions would leave only one firefighter on duty during some shifts. Call-in firefighters could offset that, he said.

The Lincoln Budget Committee, a subcommittee of the council, is due to hold its last of a monthlong series of public hearings at 6 p.m. Thursday. The council will discuss the budget at 6 p.m. June 2, with a budget vote later that month. That vote has not been scheduled.

Reserve accounts, which the town sets aside for purchases or emergencies, contain about $400,000. The town’s capital projects reserve account, which addresses large projects such as the Public Works Department garage built in 2012, has $224,500, Treasurer Melissa Quintela said.

At Lawrence’s direction, town officials have worked since February to cut $600,000 from the town’s $4.3 million 2013-14 budget. As of Tuesday, administrators have cut $487,000, and the budget committee suggests cutting $76,000 more for a total of $563,000 in cuts, Quintela said.

Budget committee members also are considering recommending the usage of some reserve funds to offset some of the cuts, Quintela said, but exactly how much that will be remains unclear.

“The $600,000 is just a goal. That doesn’t mean that we are going to use the reserve accounts to make up the difference,” she said.

Lawrence said he would prefer to leave the reserve accounts untouched.

“When you drain those accounts, you can have a low mill rate for a few years, but if you are faced with a real emergency [afterward], you can see your mill rate jump right up again and be in real trouble,” Lawrence said.

The town’s mill rate increased in October from $19.86 per $1,000 of valuation to $22.96 — about $155 on properties worth $50,000 — in response to declines in the town’s total valuation and an increase in the town’s budget.

Lawrence set the $600,000 goal to offset the impact upon residents of 200 layoffs at the Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC mill in December. A boiler explosion in November and the loss of a tissue contract to an Indonesian firm caused the job loss. Lawrence said he also expected a reduction of state revenue sharing with municipalities, which has been the trend for the last several years.

Lincoln leaders also have tackled the threat of dwindling population and businesses in the wake of the layoffs. They are working with Northern Penobscot Tech on marketing videos, building recreational trails, working to develop joint purchasing and service-sharing arrangements with Howland, supporting the installation of a $7.5 million natural gas pipeline and associated worker retraining, increasing town trash fees residents pay, and working with Bangor officials to attract and retain 20- and 30-somethings regionally.

 

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