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Norway mulls small budget increase
NORWAY — The Norway Budget Committee will be asked to balance saving money in tough times and making positive investments in the town's workers and infrastructure.
"I think everyone knows it's a tough situation," said Town Manager David Holt. "We will need to consider both views, fiscal restraint and the needs that the community might have."
The 15 citizens on Norway's budget committee met for the first time in 2011 on April 7.
Holt briefed the committee members on the highlights of the 2011-12 budget, which includes a small increase in expenditures, but stays within state limits.
The proposed budget was constructed by Holt himself and the town's department heads, and outlines what they perceive to be the town's needs. It calls for a $323,000 net increase in expenditures, which is coupled with $213,000 increase in non-property tax revenue.
Despite an expected decrease in the town's two main sources of non-property tax revenue, state revenue-sharing and motor vehicle excise tax, the town was able to compensate by drawing $200,000 from the general fund surplus and $58,847 from the Sanborn Trust Fund.
The town has not drawn on the surplus for years, but can for 2011-12, said Holt, because the general fund is well over the minimum that the town requires. A town ordinance on "Financial Procedures for the Town of Norway," requires that the surpluses be kept over $1 million. According to Holt, the current surplus measures roughly $1.6 million.
"Actual revenues certainly aren't going up," said Holt. "In tough times, occasionally we are able to take some money out of the surplus. When we met with the auditor, she said it was something she wasn't excited about but it was something we could do."
The Sanborn Trust is a fund left by a former town resident, from which the town may take half of annual interest while using the other half to build the principle. The town will be taking the full allowed amount for the first time after taking out $41,000 in 2010, and nothing in 2009. Holt said that the fund contains over $1 million.
All told, the amount that the town will have to raise through local property taxes in the budget is roughly $110,000 more than last year. The total amount to be raised comes to $2,705,305.
The effect of the budget on mil rates should be minimal, said Holt. He said that the $110,000 increase is small enough that, in most years, the town's valuation growth would allow property tax to make it up. With the economy in its current state though, the growth is not guaranteed.
In a public letter from Holt on the budget, he describes the spending measures taken as conservative in the face of tough times, but not so much as to be damaging to the town's future.
"These are hard time," reads the letter. "Un- and under-employment in our town makes paying the bills, including the property tax, a challenge for our citizens... On the whole, Norway has taken the approach to be conservative each year and not draconian. We will maintain what we own and plan each year for our future needs."
Among the most important of the needs, said Holt, was keeping the town's roads in good repair. The proposed budget sets aside $200,000 for road improvements. Aside from salaries and solid waste, it is the largest single item.
The money will primarily go to maintaining roads that have been recently improved through a $1 million bond taken out in 2010. Holt said that the bond called for roughly $600,000 to be spent last year, and $300,000 more will be spent this year on road improvements. Most of the $200,000 in the budget for this year will go to overlays for the improved roads, which insures the town's investment by keeping the new roads in good condition.
"The roads will deteriorate without the investments," said Holt, adding that, in better financial times, the town could have ideally raised up to $300,000. "These are big-ticket items, but they're not ones that, if we don't do anything, they'll get better. They'll just get worse."
"The overall condition of the roads has improved dramatically with the significant investment through bonding and much bigger commitments to road improvement," reads the manager's recommendation. "It remains important to keep up the effort in order to maintain improvements that have been made and to eventually provide better roads to those still waiting."
Also included in the budget was a 2.5 percent pay increase for non-union town employees: a category that includes all but the police officers.
Police officers received a 1.25 percent increase last year and will be receiving another this year, while other town officials went without a raise in 2010.
"Many of the positions pay more in Paris and Oxford," said Holt. "With mobility, it's important to keep our salaries competitive."
"I think it makes sense to invest in the people this year. I think they manned up last year without a raise."
The increases will keep the town under spending regulations set forth by the state in 2007 under LD 1.
The committee will be meeting twice a week, Tuesday and Thursday evenings, to go over the proposals and make their own recommendations. Complete copies of the proposed budget and the town's audit are available on the town of Norway's website.