FREEPORT – Factors beyond Freeport’s control could add up to a $135 increase next year in the taxes paid by the owner of a $221,000 residence, the average value of a home in town.

The Town Council on Tuesday night began deliberations on an $8,926,159 proposed municipal budget for next year. While that figure is $52,000 less than the town spent on operating costs this year, decreased revenues would contribute to an actual net increase of about $100,000 on the spending side should the council pass the budget as presented, Town Manager Peter Joseph said last Thursday.

The municipal budget, which does not include accompanying capital and tax-increment financing budgets, was posted on the town website and Town Hall walls last Thursday.

According to schedule, the Town Council will adopt a new budget on June 17.

A $90,000 request from the Shellfish Conservation Commission for a town shellfish coordinator is not included in the budget request. The commission was scheduled to make that request to the council on Tuesday night, after the Tri-Town Weekly’s deadline.

Abbe Yacoben, the town’s finance director, said that the council did not include costly new budget requests in its bottom line budget figure, in order to keep the tax rate stable. That does not mean the council will not decide to include it, she said.

The estimated $135 impact on an average home includes 52 cents on the tax rate from Regional School Unit 5, 7 cents more from the town and 1.5 cents from the county, Joseph said. RSU 5 is considering a 5 percent budget increase, with adoption of a new spending plan set for May 14.

Joseph said that the impact on taxes is based on certain assumptions.

“We assume a certain valuation – a certain tax base, which doesn’t happen until the fall,” he said. “These are usually conservative estimates.”

The drip, drip, drip of decreased state revenues is having a cumulative effect, Joseph indicated. While the decrease amounts to only $35,000 next year, those add up. So while the town is holding the line on spending, residents don’t see the results.

“I’m sure we’re going to get a lot of questions about that, and I don’t blame people,” Joseph said. “When you take into account the county and school increases, it’s going to add up.”

Joseph said that the rate of inflation is around 1.5 percent, and the town’s is 2 percent.

“Usually we’re a little bit lower, so we’re close,” he said.

The town conducted new property valuations in 2010, and average taxes went from $2,824 to $3,356. The town will reassess property values again this year.

Joseph said that a proposed 1.8 percent hike in salaries, amounting to $65,000, will constitute the single largest increase in the municipal budget.

“That’s based on a survey on comparable communities,” he said. “This is a maintenance budget. There are not a lot of changes. We don’t have a lot of new services.”

The largest reduction, amounting to $102,000, comes from the cost of sending town waste to ecomaine in Portland, which is owned by member communities. The decrease reflects a reduction in ecomaine’s debt service, Joseph said.

“Everything else in this budget is relatively small,” he said.

Joseph credits Yacoben with a budget booklet that will be much easier for the public to understand. More than half the 257-page budget document includes summaries of department budgets, which until this year were not supplied until after adoption of the budget.

Yacoben won a Government Finance Officers Association contest for budget submission, and the public is the winner, he said.

“It’s more of a narrative that goes with it,” he said. “It’s kind of a public information piece. It’s more digestable for residents and somebody who is not familiar with it.”

Joseph used the codes/planning departments as an example. Two pages of narrative include goals, objectives, performance measures and a summary.


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