FALMOUTH — The $13.8 million municipal budget proposed by the Town Council has been cut by about $1.4 million from what was proposed before the pandemic, but some user fees will increase to make up part of the difference. 

With a new round of cuts in light of projected revenues, which have decreased about 2.9% or $181,000 for non-property tax revenues due to the COVID-19 coronavirus, town officials have lowered the tax increase to 18 cents.

If passed, the tax rate would increase 1.9%, to $17.05 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. That would mean an additional $72 for a median-priced $400,000 home, Finance Director Pete McHugh said.

The school board has approved its budget of just less than $39.5 million; it will have no effect on the tax rate and will face final approval through a referendum vote July 14.

Councilor Janice De Lima, who also leads the panel’s Finance Committee, said at a Monday workshop that council “(cut) areas (in the town budget) like open space allocation and putting off our acquisition off of Johnson Road. This is based off our prior experiences in economic downturns. This budget has safety, health and well-being in mind, including moving forward with the Fire Department hires, which would have added 64 cents to the mil rate alone (before other cuts).” 

The proposed municipal budget of $13.8 million is 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. All other non-essential capital investments have been deferred. The town is holding off on other new hires and instituting some fee increases.

“One of the big initiatives we will see in this budget is we try to take user fee services and make them cover more of the expenses occurred to provide services, and mooring fees was the first one we looked at,” McHugh said.

As proposed, mooring fees for residents would go from $60 to $100, while nonresidents will pay $300, also a $40 increase. The move would cover roughly $215,000 in annual expenses based on the upkeep of the town landing.

Other cost-saving measures include a change in the price of trash bags. A 33-gallon bag would go up from $2.08 to $2.95, while a 20-gallon bag would increase from $1.46 to $1.91.

“Current fees cover 58% of annual trash collection; new fees cover annual trash collection costs. We will be increasing bag fees so that the entire trash collection cost will be covered through bag fees, which will save us over $160,000,” McHugh said.

Other hikes would include the library’s budget, which is proposed at $752,911, or an increase of $96,758. As construction on the library is being finished, staffing will return to about nine full-time employees, from eight in 2018 and 2019, McHugh said. $17,090 of the increase is from more operating expenses associated with a bigger building, as well as $10,000 in acquisitions, as the library had not been purchasing books during construction, Town Manager Nathan Poore said.

“Wastewater is higher, but that’s misleading, as 99% of that increase is debt service for the West Falmouth sewer expansion project, which is about $333,000,” McHugh said. “Excluding that debt service, the actual increase is just under $30,000, or 1.24%.

The council is expected to approve the budget during a Zoom meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday before considering increases in trash bags and sewer rates, both to become effective July 1. Links to the meeting can be found at falmouthme.org.

Councilor Ted Asherman asked what happened to plans to promote a plan that would result in no tax increase for residents.

“That (15 cent increase) is about $360,000. $300,000 of it was deferral of vehicle replacements, police cruisers, public works dump truck and pick ups, park maintenance equipment,” McHugh said. “Basically those were very impactful as far as the budget overall, as it would cause us to increase the time we keep vehicles by another year, which could cause a ripple effect that’d impact our maintenance costs significantly, so it was good to put those back in.”

The other $60,000 impacting the tax increase is a half a year’s worth of cost of living adjustments, in part due to the 14 expected new fire department hires.

“Those were the two major changes made to come up with the 15 cents,” McHugh said.

The council was scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposed budget Wednesday, when members will have a chance to ask the school department about their budget, which is proposed with no increase to the tax rate.

In an email to The Forecaster, Superintendent Geoff Bruno confirmed the school budget of $39,477,027 had been approved by the School Board.

“Our school leadership team worked diligently to reduce by nearly $715,000 what was originally presented in March to reflect a proposed expenditure budget of 2.04% that will have zero impact on the mil rate,” Bruno said. “We felt this was important and appropriate given the potential economic challenges brought on by the necessary restrictions imposed on all of our communities to contain the spread of coronavirus.”

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