TOPSHAM — Topsham selectmen are proposing a $13.5 million municipal budget for 2020-21 that Town Manager Derek Scrapchansky projects will reduce the tax rate 1.3%.

Residents will vote on the proposed budget at a town meeting later this month.

The proposed municipal budget is a $655,579 increase from the current fiscal year. The proposed Maine School Administrative District 75 budget would increase taxes in Topsham $62,066 and the Sagadahoc County budget is increasing taxes $78,464.

Scrapchansky said the town has a healthy fund balance. The proposed municipal budget approved by selectmen Thursday uses surplus funds to help offset taxes and pay for capital expenses. He estimates the tax rate will drop from $19.15 to $18.90 per $1,000 assessed value. The owner of a home valued at $200,000 would see their tax bill drop $50.

The tax rate will depend on how much revenue to town gets during the 2020-21 fiscal year, which Scrapchansky expects will take a hit due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re assuming a 15% decrease in excise tax,” compared to 2019, Scrapchansky said.

He’s also budgeted for a flat level of municipal revenue sharing from the state, which initially projected a 27% increase in March.

The town is purchasing an ambulance for $325,000, a plow truck for $135,000 and planning $350,000 in road paving projects.

The budget also includes $360,000 for work on the Topsham side of the Frank J. Wood Bridge as part of the upcoming bridge replacement by the Maine Department of Transportation. Also known as the green bridge, the structure spans the Androscoggin River between Topsham and Brunswick.

Select Board chair David Douglass said plans include a small park and outlook area near the approach to the existing bridge, which will be removed.

The police department budget is increasing by $169,848. Scrapchansky said the department is getting a new police cruiser and new radar systems. The town negotiated a new police contract that “puts us in a good position for recruiting and retaining police officers,” he said.

The town is heavily investing in its software and computer systems with information technology support, according Douglass, which largely accounts for the $118,928 increase in central services.

Many towns that normally pass budgets at a town meeting opted to send budgets to a referendum vote on July 14. Topsham is holding a drive-in style town meeting at the Topsham Fairgrounds at 6 p.m. on July 29.

According to June 15 guidance issued by the Gov. Jane Mills administration on drive-in town meetings, voters enclosed in their vehicles don’t count against the 50-person gathering limit.

Selectmen wanted to give residents the chance to discuss the proposed budget and ask questions, Douglass said.

Douglass said registration starts at 5 p.m. and residents will enter via the back entrance off the Route 196 Coastal Connector. Three microphones will be set up and staff will sanitize them between users. Voters will be given ballot cards and handouts as usual.

“It is intended to be just as any other town meeting,” Douglass said. “The only difference is how you sit and where it’s located.”

The rain dates are July 30 and July 31.

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