FREEPORT — Freeport residents are facing a 1.69% tax increase through a flat municipal budget and after heavy reductions to the proposed school budget as officials brace for the financial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The current $10.4 million municipal budget would lower taxes by about 0.01%, but when combined with Freeport’s projected $19.125 share of the Regional School Unit 5 $34.99 million budget, residents face an overall 1.69% tax increase. Original estimates carried a 3.87% overall tax increase. 

This would increase the town’s mill rate by 23 cents to $14.53 per $1,000 valuation, according to finance director Jessica Maloy, and would mean a $4,359 property tax bill for a home valued at $300,000. 

The municipal budget includes a roughly $90,750 spending increase related to salaries, hydrant rentals, water quality testing, tree work and vehicle maintenance, among others. 

That is offset by a revenue increase of about $96,900. 

The term “revenue increase” is a bit of a misnomer, town officials said Tuesday, because the proposed sources of revenue are one-time only adjustments from other sources that will ultimately need to be replenished in future budget cycles.

Some other cost-saving measures include a $150,000 reduction from the town-wide paving budget, bringing it from $400,000 down to $250,000. The use of impact fees will be raised from $80,000 to $175,000 and the town employees may also forgo a planned 2.5% cost of living adjustment.

The town council hosted a public hearing Tuesday, but no members of the community weighed in. 

The hearing was followed by a budget discussion, during which councilors voted to trim an additional $19,744, removing the Fourth of July parade funding and reducing funds for streetlights and travel for roughly eight town departments and services. 

The council had the option to dip into a $1 million tax rate stabilization fund, established sometime in the 1980s, that allows the town to take out up to $500,000 for one year to offset property taxes. The fund is intended to be used if the tax increase is set to go above 5%, Town Manager Peter Joseph said earlier, but the council is allowed to change the policy with a majority vote. 

Councilors ultimately decided to first ask the school board to “shave off” wherever they could before depleting town reserves. 

Shortly after, school officials cut about $836,000 from the proposed budget, bringing the total increase from this year to about $792,000, according to The Forecaster. The town’s portion of the school budget is nearly twice the municipal budget. RSU 5 includes Freeport, Pownal and Durham. 

The school district’s budget is largely driven by a $1.5 million increase in estimated salary and benefits. According to The Forecaster, to offset expenses, the district will use $549,000 from the fiscal year 2019 unexpended fund balance, up $389,000 from the initial proposal. A Morse Street School kindergarten teacher, to be paid $82,000 including benefits, was removed from the budget. Also included in the cost reductions is $106,000 from all staff taking one furlough day.

Maloy said Wednesday that to her knowledge, the council is no longer considering taking money from the tax rate stabilization fund. 

Councilors are expected to vote to adopt the budget June 16. 

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