Brewer council passes budget that keeps taxes steady

Posted June 03, 2014, at 8:40 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — The City Council on Tuesday night unanimously passed a budget that won’t raise residents’ taxes in fiscal year 2015.

Brewer’s municipal budget of $12.3 million is a 0.75 percent increase from the current one, while the school expects to spend $20.5 million in fiscal year 2015, a 1 percent increase over this year. Brewer’s Penobscot County tax assessment also rose 2.2 percent, or by $200,000.

City councilors said they didn’t want taxes to go up, so in order to prevent a projected $1.03 hike to the city’s tax rate, City Manager Stephen Bost and Finance Director Karen Fussell proposed a round of cuts totaling $730,000, fee increases, and other changes to city services.

Now the tax rate will remain steady at $20.92 per thousand dollars of property valuation. It had risen in the previous two budget seasons from a rate of $17.95.

In order to meet the council’s no-tax-hike mandate, city officials decided to eliminate two positions: deputy city clerk and the landfill gatekeeper/recycling coordinator.

The city’s landfill will also limit 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 five to seven 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.

In response to concerns from residents who worry about landfill hours not being sufficient, the city will open the compost area every Tuesday morning to allow residents to drop off things such as grass clippings and leaves. That station will be staffed by an employee who will be pulled from his normal duty to man the compost area.

The tax hike avoidance is a rare feat this budget season, with many of Brewer’s neighbors and other communities in the region considering increases in their rates to make up for lost revenue, increasing costs and underfunded mandates.

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