Taxes remain steady in Brewer’s proposed budget after 2 layoffs, other cuts

Posted May 16, 2014, at 10:14 p.m.
Brewer City Manager Steve Bost
Gabor Degre | BDN
Brewer City Manager Steve Bost Buy Photo
Karen Fussell
Brian Swartz | BDN
Karen Fussell

BREWER, Maine — Under the city’s proposed fiscal year 2015 budget, property tax rates will stay steady at $20.92 per thousand dollars of valuation, but only after a series of cost-cutting measures that included two layoffs.

City Manager Stephen Bost and Finance Director Karen Fussell said the Brewer City Council was unanimously adamant that the latest budget shouldn’t boost the city’s tax rate for the third consecutive year. The initial budget projection, which typically includes everything each city department would like to have, would have boosted the tax rate by $1.03, according to Fussell.

To avoid that, the city had to reduce expenses by about $730,000, and that took some “pain and sacrifice,” Fussell said.

Overall, Brewer’s projected municipal expenses are at about $12.3 million, a .75 percent increase from the current budget. The schools are projecting about $20.5 million in expenses, which is about a 1 percent increase over the current budget.

Part of that gap was closed through small changes to bring in more revenue, such as increases to permit fees through the Code Enforcement Department, Fussell said. The city also has proposed restructuring its health plan to lower its premium.

In terms of bigger changes, the city has proposed laying off two employees: Its deputy city clerk and the landfill gatekeeper/recycling coordinator. Both positions are slated for elimination in the proposed budget.

The city’s use of technology to complete some tasks have reduced the amount of clerk time needed and the city manager’s office would provide backup during busy times, Fussell and Bost said. The clerk’s public office hours would decrease from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. to 8 a.m.-4 p.m., to give the clerk an hour at the end of the day to work uninterrupted, according to Bost.

The city’s landfill also will be limiting its hours to the first and third Saturdays of each month and the city will close its recycling drop-off area. That drop-off point is “largely redundant” because the city already has zero-sort curbside pickup every other week, Bost said.

Brewer, one of few municipalities in the area still operating its own landfill, has just 5-7 years worth of space remaining, and closing the landfill will cost about $700,000, so it’s in the city’s best interest to keep it going as long as possible, Bost said. The reduced hours should accomplish that by slowing the pace at which debris is going in, he said.

There are 92 full-time equivalent municipal positions covered in this proposed budget, Fussell said.

“Over the years, we’ve gotten leaner and leaner, and there are fewer places you can find revenue to spare,” Bost said.

Fussell also noted that neither sewer nor water rates are expected to increase under the new budget.

A public hearing on the proposed city and school budgets will be held during a City Council meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 20 at Brewer City Hall.

The City Council will vote on the proposed budget at its first meeting of next month, scheduled June 3. Voters will see the school budget appropriation on their June 10 election ballots.

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