The Standish town manager has proposed a budget that includes cutting town employees back to a four-day work week and slashing money for town services and contributions to social service agencies.

Town Manager Gordon Billington said the cuts in the $5.7 million budget are necessary to make up for a $1.5 million decline in revenues without raising taxes.

“The fund shortfall is very, very real,” Billington said. “We’ve scaled down to real essential public services.”

The cuts include eliminating the $8,000 town subsidy for the Steep Falls Library and the $2,500 subsidy for Richville Library. The budget would cut $88,000 from public works and $50,000 from public safety. The town would save $68,000 by reducing its 33 full-time staff positions to four days a week.

Town contributions to 14 local organizations and social service agencies, including VNA Home Health Care and the American Red Cross, would drop from $25,000 to $4,000. The remaining $4,000 for the Standish Sno-Seekers snowmobile club is money that comes from the state.

Capital expenditures would drop from $1.7 million to $15,000, and investments originally planned for this year, such as rebuilding Whites Bridge Road and purchasing a public works truck, would have to be put off.

All non-essential training would be cut from the budget as well, half the streetlights would be turned off and salt would no longer be used on secondary roads, Billington said.

The proposed cuts are Billington’s response to projected revenue losses, including $125,000 from excise tax, $50,000 from state revenue sharing and $28,000 from investment interest.

The town side of the tax rate would stay at $2.18 per $1,000 of assessed property.

Residents will have a chance to weigh in on the proposed budget at a public hearing Tuesday, March 10, at 7 p.m. at the Standish Town Hall. On Thursday, March 19, the Town Council and Finance Committee will hear requests for donations at 7 p.m. at the town hall.

Under the proposed budget, the town would implement a temporary furlough, cutting all town employees down to four days a week. Salaried employees would get a 5 percent pay cut and wages would be frozen for hourly employees, who would go from 40 hours a week to between 32 and 38 hours per week, according to Billington.

Municipal offices would be closed on Fridays and the transfer station would be open Thursday through Sunday instead of Friday through Tuesday. The budget would also eliminate $10,000 in overtime for all non-public works employees. The furlough could be rolled back if economic conditions improved, Billington said.

Reducing pay for employees would allow the town to minimize layoffs, though a part-time administrative clerk has already been laid off in the recreation department and one transfer station position would be eliminated in the proposed budget.

Director of Public Safety Brent Libby said the $50,000 cut in his operating budget would come mostly from training, new equipment and salaries.

“We’re going to have to kind of buckle down and make do with what we have,” Libby said.

Libby and the full-time lieutenant would be cut to four days a week, saving $4,500, and two seasonal harbor master positions would be eliminated, saving $9,800. The budget would also reduce the number of officers receiving stipends and reduce the new equipment budget from $25,000 to $7,000.

At the Steep Falls Library, with more patrons and community activities, Librarian Paula Paul doesn’t know what she would do without the town subsidy.

“It would kill us,” Paul said. “We’d have to make some hard choices.”

Cutting back library hours would impact users such as Logan Fredette, who comes to the library two to four days a week with her 3-year-old daughter, Emily. Fredette doesn’t have a computer at her home in Steep Falls so she uses one at the library to search and apply for jobs.

“This is my access, other than going to Portland,” Fredette said.

Fredette said sometimes she drives to the career center in Portland, but it’s a long drive, often crowded, and it’s hard to keep her daughter occupied. At the library, Emily colors, looks at books and plays games on the computer. Fredette brings snacks, and the pair often stays for most of the day.

“I’d sleep here if I could,” Fredette joked.

Fredette is one of many turning to public libraries for access to books, movies and computers. Nationwide, libraries have seen increases in visitors and circulation, and the library in Steep Falls is no exception. Circulation went up by almost 1,000 from July to February of 2008-2009 over the same period in 2007-2008. Computer use is up also, Paul said.

Some local seniors and other residents depend on the library for a place to socialize, have lunch, play games and shop. There is a bridge group that meets every Tuesday and a senior games day with lunch on Wednesdays. On Saturdays from 9 a.m.-1 p.m., there is an indoor market, where vendors sell local produce and meat, baked goods and crafts.

“Especially the way the economy is, the library is your core,” said Standish resident Lyn Willison, who was playing bridge Tuesday at the library.

“I just moved in February and without the library I would have been lost,” agreed Sheila Kelly, who moved from Limington. She plays bridge on Tuesdays and comes on Wednesdays for lunch and more games. “This is where I meet people,” said Kelly, who lives alone.

The Steep Falls Library is a nonprofit governed by a board of directors. With annual operating expenses of $38,000, the library is funded 62 percent by the town, 7 percent from fundraisers, 31 percent from an annual drive and less than 1 percent from miscellaneous contributions. The library is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

“This year we’re faced with a really, really hard economic climate,” Billington said. “It’s a new paradigm. It’s a new world.”

Elizabeth Winslow, June Flewwelling, Jolene Webber and Kathy Murphy play bridge at the Steep Falls Library Tuesday. The library hosts a number of community activities for residents, including a game day with lunch on Wednesdays and an indoor market on Saturdays.Logan Fredette and her daughter, Emily, often come to the Steep Falls Library so Fredette can look on the internet for jobs and Emily can color, play on the computer and look at books. “This is my access,” Fredette said, adding that she doesn’t have a computer at home.

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