BRUNSWICK — Town Manager John Eldridge proposed a municipal budget to councilors April 4 that would increase taxes by just more than 2% and add four people to the Fire Department.

The municipal budget being advocated by Eldridge for fiscal year 2020 is $26 million, an increase of $1.7 million from this year. If it is approved, taxes would increase 2.16%, from $18.92 per $1,000 in valuation to $19.32.

However, if both the town and proposed school budget are approved as proposed, the total property tax rate would increase by 5.81% to $20.02.

According to Eldridge, the major drivers of the increase to the town side of the overall budget include adding more staff, including four first responders to the Fire Department and a traffic safety officer at the Police Department, along with two seasonal rangers with the Parks and Recreation Department. The town clerk’s position would also be increased from part time to full time.

Other reasons for the increase include the rising cost of health care, along with salaries and benefits for both existing and proposed staff that account for 53% of the hike in expenditures.

The estimated total salary increase for town personnel for fiscal year 2020 is $424,000, to more than $9.6 million. Benefits for current and requested staff would increase $508,000, to more than $4.9 million.

According to Eldridge, the increase in benefits is caused by the health insurance costs that have gone up 7.9%.

Also featured in the town manager’s proposed plan is $70,000 for the Property Tax Assistance Program.

Eldridge said there has been an increase of $137,o00 in recycling costs and the town’s curbside recycling program. He said because of this increase, he and town councilors will have to rethink the program, and possibly consider suspending the curbside program.

Capital improvements

The budget includes a Capital Improvement Plan that proposes upgrades to the town’s information technology server for $252,500 and road resurfacing and rehabilitation at a cost of $200,000.

The proposed plan also includes $300,000 from the facilities reserve account to be used for upgrades at the Curtis Memorial Library, where LED lights will be installed and the building will be painted. The Public Works building would also be painted under the CIP, and traffic signals on Bath Road would be upgraded at a cost of $50,000.

“The Bath Road corridor has been experiencing an increase in traffic and congestion in recent years,” Deputy Finance Director Branden Perreault said. “To better accommodate traffic coming to and from Route 1 to the Brunswick Naval Air Station, retail sites east of the Route 1 ramps, and West Bath, this project would improve the efficiency of the signal timing and coordinate the signals to reduce travel times and delays.”

The project would include traffic signal timing changes, signal coordination, and any necessary upgrades to the signals at Admiral Fitch Avenue and Connector Road, Bath Road and Merrymeeting Plaza, among others.

Eldridge said his proposed CIP prioritizes the increase in public safety and the plan “maintains a continued commitment to reserve funding.”

Upcoming council workshops on the town budget are scheduled for Thursday, April 18 and 25. The total budget will be considered for adoption on May 13, and the school budget will go to a public validation referendum on June 11.

Councilors expressed support for Eldridge’s proposed plan, including the addition of the first responders.

According to the Fire Department, calls are up 66% this year and the staffing hasn’t been adequate.

“Adding four probably isn’t even enough, but I am glad we are at least starting there,” Councilor Jane Millett said. “This town has a need for more first responders.”

Patti McDonald can be reached at 780-9123 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @pmcdonaldme.

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