Houlton councilors reroute cash to hold line on taxes

Posted July 01, 2014, at 4:07 p.m.

HOULTON, Maine — During a special meeting on Monday evening, town councilors made last minute revisions to the budget that they believe will enable them to hold taxes at the current rate.

Some councilors, however, said during the meeting that they feared the town might be setting itself up for future budget issues, and the actions that they took would only help in the short term.

During the approximately hour long meeting, Butch Asselin, who is usually the police chief but is serving as interim town manager, handed out a revised 2014-15 municipal budget. The town sets its tax rate in July and does not want to raise the level beyond the $21.75 per $1,000 of valuation. The town needed to find about $138,000 in savings in order to avoid an increase.

During the meeting, Asselin suggested transferring some money from an account that the town sets aside for road maintenance to finance line item purchases and stabilize the mill rate.

Asselin said that as far as spending was concerned, the town’s budget was pretty “bare bones” and that there were not a lot of other places to cut.

Councilor John White was leery about taking money from the roads account. Early in summer 2009, the town received a $1 million bond to fix its 14 miles of roads and sidewalks that had decayed over the years. The bond is expected to be paid off over 20 years. Prior to that, a heavily damaged, high traffic stretch of state-owned road known as Bangor Street was fixed. North Street in Houlton is being worked on.

White said that there are several other streets in the community that need to be fixed, and the town has to have money to fix those roads. He worried that the actions taken by the council was just “slapping a Band-Aid on the budget.”

Councilor Wade Hanson also said that raiding the roads account might lead the town to once again fall behind on its upkeep of roads and sidewalks.

“We don’t want to fall behind on those projects,” he said.

A public hearing and vote on the budget will be held later this month.

Before the meeting adjourned, the group unanimously accepted the resignation of Leigh Stilwell, who is stepping down as public works director after nearly 25 years working in various positions for the municipality. His resignation is effective July 15.

Asselin and the councilors thanked him for his commitment over the years. An open house will be held for Stilwell at the town office next week, and the time and date will be announced on social media.

 

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