Bath City Hall. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

BATH — Bath taxpayers could see a 2% tax increase if city councilors approve the proposed $17 million budget next month.

That would equate to an $80 increase in taxes on a home valued at $200,000, compared to the city’s current tax rate of $19.80 per $1,000 of valuation.

While the city’s tax increment rose by less than .5%, the total property tax burden increases 2% when combined with budget proposals from Regional School Unit 1 and Sagadahoc County.

RSU 1 initially proposed a $38.3 million budget last month, reflecting a 13% spending hike. Without a required bond payment on the new Morse High School — now under construction — the increase would have been 3.4%, according to the district’s board of directors.

The district’s financial board revisited the budget and made $88,928 in cuts at its May 18 meeting, reducing the proposed tax increase to 2.1%.

Patrick Manuel, RSU 1 superintendent, said the board saved $71,000 from employee benefits because the district budgeted for a 7% health insurance hike, but the rate ended up being flat. The district also removed additional central office support, saving another $11,500.

The first $3.2 million principal bond payment on the new Morse High will largely cause the district’s debt service to rise from $3.4 million to $7.3 million. Salaries and benefits, accounting for nearly 60% of the budget, are increasing 3.94% to reach $22.8 million.

RSU 1 residents have two opportunities to vote on the budget — first at a June 30 district budget meeting and finally at the July 14 budget validation referendum.

Bath’s $341,182 spending increase from last year’s municipal budget is driven largely from an increase in insurance and personnel funds, according to Juli Millett, Bath’s finance director. The budget includes a 21.37% increase in workers’ compensation, professional services, salaries, health insurance and retirement contributions, totaling $82,000 more compared to last year’s budget.

“The biggest insurance increase by far is workers’ compensation, which the city pays for,” said Millett.

Compared to last year’s budget, workers’ compensation jumped 35.66%, or $92,000, “due to the fact that the city had a few significant claims,” said Millett. She declined to say what those claims were.

Employee benefits, which include health insurance and retirement, rose 4.77%, or $108,353, but Millett was unable to estimate what the increase will mean for out-of-pocket costs to city employees because “anything in our budget isn’t what the employees are paying.”

The city’s sewer fund saw a 5.97% increase to pay for upgrades to the treatment plant, infrastructure and equipment. Millett said the city’s aging sewer system has undergone upgrades and repairs since 2017, which are in part federally funded.

City Manager Peter Owen said the city also hired a new full-time firefighter, “in response to our continuous need for emergency responders.” The new firefighter will join in December, so only half of their salary is included in this budget.

Chris Cummings, Bath’s deputy fire chief, said the fire and rescue department requested an additional firefighter after seeing a steady increase in ambulance calls, putting stress on the department. With the additional firefighter, the department will have 24 members. In 2019, the fire and rescue department responded to 2,187 calls for an ambulance and 529 fire calls, Cummings said.

Millett said the city is trying to keep taxes as low as possible for residents due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To offset necessary spending and stay within the City’s expenditure limitation, cuts to the capital and landfill budgets were made. In total, landfill spending decreased by $99,667, or 5.43% compared to last year.

“With uncertainties around revenues in 2021 related to effects of the economy and the coronavirus shut down, the goal was to fund necessary expenditure increases without relying on fee increases and having a minimal tax effect,” Millett wrote in a letter to city councilors.

Millett said the municipal landfill has undergone a drop in revenue, which she estimated is because “contract haulers that were bringing trash to the landfill, found another place to take their trash for less money.”

The full detailed budget is available on the city’s website, cityofbath.com, under the “government” tab.

City councilors will vote on the proposed budget at their June city council meeting. Councilors haven’t yet set the date and location of the meeting, but details will be announced on the city’s website and Facebook page. Public meetings can be viewed on Bath Community Television and via livestream on the city’s website.

If approved, the budget will take effect on Wednesday, July 1.

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