Freeport’s town manager is proposing to cut staff by consolidating public safety dispatching to help fill a projected $366,000 budget gap.

Town Manager Dale Olmstead said the Town Council will need to consider the reductions or increase the municipal tax rate by 7 percent next year.

A public hearing on the 2011 municipal budget is on the agenda at tonight’s Town Council meeting. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

Cuts in state funding, including revenue sharing and road assistance, make up almost $300,000 of the deficit, Olmstead said Monday. The rest of the shortfall is from a drop in local revenues such as excise taxes, he said.

”I’m not enthused about any of the cuts I brought forward, but if there is not going to be an increase in the tax rate, we have to make cuts somewhere,” he said.

The 2011 budget would need to be about $7.5 million, down from $7.8 million in the current year, to avoid the first increase in the municipal tax rate in five years.

The current tax rate is $12.75 per $1,000 of property valuation, said Finance Director Abigail Yacoben.

This is not the first time the town has considered consolidating public safety dispatching services. Last year, the council shelved a proposal to join Cumberland County dispatch in Windham. Members of the Freeport Police Department filed a grievance letter with Olmstead over the consolidation plan.

Under the manager’s budget, Freeport would save more than $215,000 through layoffs if it consolidated dispatch with Brunswick public safety or Cumberland County. The remaining $150,000 to make up the shortfall would come from reductions in health insurance benefits, early retirement offers and support from town funds, such as the tax stabilization fund.

The town employs four dispatchers. Under Brunswick’s proposed consolidation, one would be hired to work by the town. Olmstead said Freeport currently has three job openings that out-of-work dispatchers could apply for.

Under any consolidation plan, a staff member would remain to answer questions during business hours at the lobby window of the Freeport Public Safety building, Olmstead said.

Town Council Chairman Bill Muldoon said the dispatch issue has been considered by past councils, but the timing was never right for the change.

While the technology and logistics of consolidation are not a problem, councilors have to consider the jobs as well as the community’s connection to dispatch, he said.

For seniors who rely on the check-in service, in which residents call dispatch daily to verify their well-being, the change could be a challenge, he said.

Muldoon said the council is very early in the process, and he expects feedback from the public as well as proposals from other councilors. The final budget vote will come in the spring.

In trying to close its budget gap, Freeport is in company with other municipalities and the state, Muldoon said. ”We’re feeling the same bit of pain as many others,” he said.

 

Staff Writer Justin Ellis can be contacted at 791-6380 or at: [email protected]