FALMOUTH — The Town Council presented a new proposed municipal budget that would cut about $1.4 million from a budget that was built before the COVID-19 coronavirus skewed the town’s projected revenue stream.

An increase to the $16.87 tax rate was initially set at 73 cents, according to Finance Director Peter McHugh, caused by a projected decrease in excise tax revenue, down about $400,000 from an initial estimate of $3.7 million. Revenues are estimated to drop due to the coronavirus because fewer new cars are being registered, coupled with an expected decrease in building permit revenues of $27,000 and a loss of $86,000 in shared state revenue.

The proposed municipal budget is $13.8 million, a 1.9% increase over this year’s operating budget of $13.5 million. Included is a $3.1 million increase in the Fire Department’s budget to add 14 full-time staffers, despite cuts.

With a projected loss of revenue related to the coronavirus – including less in excise taxes and state revenue – town officials said they were forced to rework the municipal budget and school administrators are working to keep their budget flat, as well.

“We worked on several months on a budget that was just about done, but things have changed substantially. The current budget on both sides includes significant reductions,” Council Chairwoman Amy Kuhn said during an April 13 meeting via Zoom.

Last year, the town pulled $3.5 million in auto excise taxes, $106,760 in building permits and $790,211 in shared state revenue.

With a new round of budget cuts, however, town officials have come up with solutions to lower the tax increase to 15 cents, which would increase the tax rate to $17.05 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, including a 3-cent increase to the county assessment. That would mean an increase of $72 for a median-priced $400,000 home, McHugh said.

“No current open positions will be filled or funded,” Town Manager Nathan Poore said. “Looking at expense reductions, all computer replacements will be deferred for a year, as well as (other) non-essential capital spending items.”

Several positions will be left vacant, including a police officer, an executive assistant to the town manager, a park maintenance worker and an engineering technician in public works.

“(Some of) these positions were about to be filled, so it is disappointing, but we are doing what we can to keep the mill rate minimal while moving forward with (addressing) the needs of the fire department and EMS,” Poore said.

The town is also opting to reduce funds for legal advice by about $10,000 and Highland Lake water testing by $8,000. It also plans to eliminate non-essential professional development trips – saving about another $29,000 – and hold off spraying for invasive species for a year, saving $15,000.

The school department joined the presentation to talk about what it is doing to keep any increases completely flat. Superintendent Geoff Bruno said administrators opted not to hire an elementary school teacher, a music teacher, a behavioral teacher and educational technicians.

“We are working to make things work with existing staff and space, but behavioral issues are on the rise,” Bruno said.

No school board meeting has been set to go over the revised proposed budget.

At the Monday meeting, the council also voted to extend the deadline to pay property taxes to June 30, should the governor approve the measure.

“We cannot do that without word from the governor, so this vote allows the town manager to go ahead and do that if it comes from the state,” Kuhn said.

Councilors also approved pushing off the town-wide property revaluation project.

“We are concerned with both the market and also that people would not want us in their homes (with the virus), which is needed for reliable numbers. Going into homes seems like the opposite of what we are asking people to do,” Poore said.

Inspections for the project were supposed to begin in May, but now a two-year window has opened up for the project to be postponed until the pandemic fades, according to Poore.

“I am supportive of suspending at least through the crisis, until we get word it is safe to co-mingle and go into homes,” Councilor Hope Cahan said during the meeting. “It would be unsafe for our employees and public and it would be atrocious to allow that to take place May 1.” 

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