August 21, 2013

Freeport councilors mull deficit options

The current $140,000 shortfall stems from cuts in state revenue sharing – and another will follow.

By Matt Byrne mbyrne@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

FREEPORT – Every option on the menu is expensive, and none is appetizing.

That was the consensus among members of the Freeport Town Council, which on Tuesday got a first look at its options to close a $140,000 shortfall in next year's budget.

The deficit was caused by cuts in state revenue sharing included in the state's biennial budget. The state budget cuts were announced too late to incorporate into the local spending plan.

As town officials developed a municipal budget, they counted on $500,000 of assistance from the state, $138,769 more than what legislators eventually decided to dole out.

Complicating matters further is a second revenue-sharing cut next year that will mean $170,000 less for the town, said Finance Director Abbe Yacoben.

"I think this is absolutely a raw deal from the state," said Councilor Melanie Sachs. "Its absolutely unconscionable that they hang their hats on the backs of the taxpayers."

To close the deficit this year, councilors could increase property taxes, which would result in an average increase for Freeport homeowners of $25 on tax bills.

The town may tap one of its rainy-day funds, but that would only delay the tax burden to future years, or it could make cuts equal to the amount in the already lean fiscal 2014 budget, which ends next June.

Borrowing to cover the costs is another choice, but an unlikely one, given that the debt would eventually have to be paid by taxpayers but at a higher cost.

"On a philosophical level, I really disagree with cutting services because the state couldn't figure out its revenue scheme," said Town Manager Peter Joseph.

Joseph said cutting the amount from the current year's budget would mean service reductions, layoffs or both.

The town could also split its decision, choosing to increase by a small amount the coming year's tax burden, while paying the remainder from its operating account and savings.

The town council will discuss its options and could vote on how to proceed at its Sept. 3 meeting.

 

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

mbyrne@pressherald.com

 

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