New Gloucester Interim Town Manager Paul Frist says the are no rules in place about town meetings, like this 2018 gathering in New Gloucester, can take place remotely. File photo

Towns in the Lakes Region are going forward on next year’s municipal budgets the best they can, but given the coronavirus outbreak’s potential jolt on revenues, restrictions on public gatherings and widespread closures, town managers said they can’t be sure of the pandemic’s impact on the annual process just yet.

Standish Town Manager Bill Giroux said he is more concerned about how the outbreak might affect revenues than the required public hearings that remain before his fiscal year 2020-21 budget can be approved and take effect July 1.

“(It) depends on how long the economy will be down. (But we) need to get a little further down the road with COVID before we know,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

Raymond Town Manager Don Willard echoed Giroux’s sentiment.

“It’s possible we won’t know the ramifications of the coronavirus when we review the budget,” Willard said on Tuesday evening. “The biggest exposure is the revenue … If (the outbreak) continues into the fiscal year that commences July 1, then it could affect the budget.”

New Gloucester Interim Town Manager Paul First said the biggest impact to the town’s budget process will be when it comes time for the annual town meeting in May.

“We don’t know at this point and we can’t predict if we will be in a position to hold a meeting, (but we’re) proceeding as if we will,” said First on Wednesday morning.

First noted that there are a lot of rules surrounding how a town governed by a town meeting is able to convene: As of right now, there is no provision in the new state law that allows for a remote form of a town meeting.

“At this point, it’s still very hard to predict, but probably (we’ll) need to be more conservative with our projections,” he said.

Windham Town Council Chairman Jarrod Maxfield said the council’s focus right now is on short-term measures to address the impact of the coronavirus on businesses and individuals.

“The town and council are trying to be proactive on what’s going on,” Maxfield said Wednesday. “At this point, our priorities have been quickly reset as a society and a town, so those are the things we’re focusing on.”

All towns’ proposed budgets are estimates and do not include school budgets, which may affect the final budget. Towns will typically use the previous year’s school budget to calculate their municipal budgets keeping in mind that school budgets tend to increase from year-to-year.

Here’s where the proposed town budgets in Lakes Region town stand as of this week:

Windham

The proposed budget for fiscal year 2020-2021 is $33.64 million, a 37% decrease from this year’s budget. The tax rate would rise rise by 10 cents, or 0.7%, to $14.74 per $1,000 of property valuation. The owner of a $250,000 home who paid $3,660 in taxes this year could expect to pay $25 more, or $3,685 next year under the proposal. In Town Manager Barry Tibbetts’ summary to the Town Council from March 6, he noted that he expects the municipal tax rate to decrease by 18 cents and the county tax to increase by 18 cents. The 10-cent increase comes from adjustments given for the Homestead Exemption Program, which may be offset by valuation increases.

The budget also introduces two long-term projects: A 10-year plan for road paving and a 20-year plan for improvements at municipal buildings, including the Town Office and police and fire central stations. The budget includes expenses for capital equipment, including two plow trucks, a street sweeper, a fire engine, an ambulance, a pick-up truck, and a 12-passenger van for the recreation department.

Four new positions will be added at “no or minimal tax dollars.” Those positions are a school resource officer for Windham Middle School (if the federal grant to fund this position is received), a full-time recreation program director, and two additional firefighters/EMTs.

Standish

The proposed budget for fiscal year 2020-2021 is $10.92 million, a 6.9% increase from last year’s budget. Taxes may rise by 65 cents, or 4.5%, for a property tax rate of $14.95 per $1,000 of property valuation. The owner of a $250,000 who paid $3,570 in taxes this year could expect to pay $162.5o more, or $3,737.50, under the proposal.

“These numbers reflect the reality of rising costs due to growth and other reasons that need to be addressed to meet the service demands of our residents,” wrote Town Manager Bill Giroux in his summary to the Town Council from Feb. 25.

Major capital spending includes pavement maintenance, the purchase of a used excavator and a new plow truck, and municipal facility improvements.

Gray

The proposed budget for fiscal year 2020-2021 is $5.15 million, an 8.4% increase over this year’s budget. Town manager Deb Cabana’s summary did not include a projected tax rate. Major capital spending includes road resurfacing and debt services on general obligation bonds.

Cabana could not be reached for comment.

New Gloucester

The proposed budget for fiscal year 2020-2021 is $3.82 million, a 14% increase from this year’s budget. The increase in the budget is due in part to the  $550,000 that voters approved last year to take from the surplus, Interim Town Manager Paul First and Budget Adviser Steven Libby said in their summary letters to the Town Council on Jan. 22. The tax rate would rise by $1.33, or 8%, for a property tax rate of $17.93 per $1,000 of property valuation. The owner of a $250,000 home who paid $4,150 in this year could expect to pay $332.50 more, or $4,482.50 next year under the proposal.

Major cuts in the budget are expected, including the elimination of the assistant librarian position at the New Gloucester Public Library. This suggestion has already caused tensions between residents and the Selectboard.

Raymond

The proposed budget for fiscal year 2020-2021 is $5.1 million, a 7.2% increase from last year’s budget. The tax rate may increase by 35 cents, or 2.6%, for a property tax rate of $13.80 per $1,000 of property valuation. The owner of a $250,000 home who paid $3,362.50 in taxes this year could expect to pay $87.50 more, or $3,450 next year under the proposal.

Major spending includes the creation of a municipal recreation department and a full-time director, three additional firefighter/EMTs, increased funding for Public Works, and a revised retirement contribution schedule for municipal employees.

Sebago 

At the Feb. 12 meeting of the Board of Selectmen and Capital Investment Program and Budget committees, Town Manager Michele Bukoveckas said the proposed budget is up 3% over this year’s budget. This increase is attributed in part to staff turnover in the Public Works department, including the director who will need to be replaced. Bukoveckas did not give a dollar amount, nor is the budget or tax rate available on the town website.

Budget information was not available for the towns of Bridgton, Naples, and Casco.

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