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Otisfield finance committee unveils $1.4M budget/Chair says 30-cent mil rate increase expected
OTISFIELD — The town's finance committee, at the annual budget hearing June 5, unveiled a $1.4 million budget which includes a 3-percent increase over last year's expenditures.
If approved by voters at annual town meeting, the budget will result in a mil rate increase of 30 cents.
Finance Committee Chair Joanie Jacobs said this year's budget, estimated to be $1,468,918, would increase the town's mil rate from $11.20 to $11.50 per $1,000 valuation.
David McVety, a finance committee member, said the committee did its best to create a budget that would reflect the potential loss of municipal revenue sharing in Governor Paul LePage's proposed biennial budget.
"We're hoping for the best," committee vice chair Dan Peaco told the some 15 residents, including department heads and various town committee members, who attended the hearing.
Last year, voters at town meeting approved a budget of $1,405,620.
Changes to this year's budget include an 8 percent increase in administration, from $96,500 to $104,500, due to one part-time employee becoming full-time.
Employee hours have increased from 32 hours to 40 hours per week, said Selectman Rick Micklon. The increased expenses also include the higher cost of postage, added Jacobs.
According Finance Committee member and Selectboard Chairman Hal Ferguson, this year's budget does not include any pay increases for town employees.
Cost of legal services will jump by $2,500, from $5,000 to $7,500. School board representative Joe Vaillancourt, at the meeting, questioned whether the $7,500 would even be enough to fund future court costs.
"I read in the paper that you had more than $40,000 in legal services," Vaillancourt said, referring to the fees associated with the 16-month-long cell tower lawsuit by the Friends of Scribner Hill, a group of Otisfield residents who challenged the tower's construction.
The money for the cell tower legal fees came out of undesignated reserve fund, Jacobs explained.
"We can't be fiscally responsible and tax taxpayers on 'what ifs.' We can't worry that someone is going to trip on a rock walking out of the town office and that we're going to get sued," Jacobs said.
A "fair amount" of those legal costs was drawn from the FY12 budget, Selectman Lenny Adler told Vaillancourt.
Ferguson added that $19,000 for legal fees was covered by money in the Sybil Lamb Fund. The extra $2,500 in the legal services budget would cover advice from attorneys about amendments to town ordinances and the future reassessment of Heniger Park, he said.
The municipal building and grounds budget is estimated to increase by $8,000, from $60,000 to $68,000. Ferguson explained the town recently finished building a municipal garage, with capital funds approved by voters at last year's town meeting.
Contingency funds will be raised by $5,000 this year, Jacobs said. In total, general government is expected to cost $288,000 – $12,380 more than last year.
Employee benefits will increase from $147,568 to $164,914.
The fire department budget will increase slightly by $510 to purchase new radios for the squad truck; animal control will be funded at $4,500; emergency management at $3,310, a $410 decrease from last year, Jacobs said.
Frank Blauvelt, the town's EMA director, has not been able to fill the assistant EMA director position, so the position will be altogether eliminated, Jacobs explained.
Gate attendants' pay at Otisfield beach has increased by $2,500 total this year due to longer work hours; two employees tend the gate, one at a time, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; two others take care of locking the gate – at a base rate of $500, Jacobs said.
"They open it every morning at 6 'o clock and lock it every night, no matter what the weather is, at 10 p.m.," she explained.
Public works will be funded at $600,000, the same as last year, including $20,000 from the road construction reserve, which has a balance of $84,866, to be used for the maintenance of Forrest Edwards, Powhattan and Gore roads.
The town will fund health and social services at $5,725, including $300 for Oxford County Mental Health and $500 for Androscoggin Home Health, which are both new services to Otisfield, according to Jacobs.
Recreation will also stay the same, at $8,000, but does not include a stipend for recreation director.
"It's a totally thankless job," Blauvelt said. He thought the rec. director, also the town's administrative assistant, Marianne Izzo-Morin, should be paid for the hours she puts in.
"We volunteered that – she said 'no,'" Ferguson said.
Mickon said the selectboard would discuss funding the rec. director position in the future.
"It takes a special person to be a rec. director," said Otisfield's fire chief, Mike Hooker, who attended the hearing, "and for what we can afford to pay, we are not going to find that special person."
Town meeting is 9 a.m. on Saturday, June 29 at the Otisfield Community Hall.