The roughly 50 Phippsburg residents who gathered for the annual town meeting kept their distance from one another outside Phippsburg Elementary School on Saturday. Residents voted to approve the $2.4 million municipal budget, which is expected to carry a flat property tax rate. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

PHIPPSBURG — Phippsburg residents voted to approve a $2.4 million municipal budget on Saturday that is not expected to affect the town’s tax rate.

The $2.4 million budget is just $51,406 higher than last year’s budget. The property tax rate will stay flat at $9.14 per $1,000 of valuation, according to Amber Jones, Phippsburg town administrator. This means a $200,000 home is expected to still receive a $1,828 property tax bill. The tax rate won’t be finalized until October.

“So many budgets had to be revised this year in order to try to keep our  tax rate flat, and I think we achieved that,” said Jones. “There are people in town who are certainly feeling economically stressed and we didn’t want to add to that stress.”

The largest driver in the budget is a $32,882 increase for contracted increases in town employee salaries and a $15,000 boost for winter road maintenance.

The only debate at the meeting occurred when three residents questioned whether some town employees should get their contracted raises, but that discussion fizzled after Phippsburg resident Kate Perkins pointed out the effect it would have on all town employees.

“COVID-19 has thrown all of us for a loop, but if you don’t give raises to people this year, you’re sentencing people for the next two cycles to also not get raises, because it wouldn’t be fair not to give this year’s group a raise and then give them to the next two groups because the town looks at one-third of the positions every year,” said Perkins. “Yes, it’s hard, it has been a rough year for everybody, but I don’t think it’s fair to take it out on this year’s group of people who just happened to be the one-third of people who got reviewed this year.”

The budget was passed as presented.

Other drivers in the budget are increases for the fire and police operations budgets, which increased by $7,000 and 7,900, respectively. Jones said this is because each department saw price increases for necessary materials including fuel, vehicle repairs and rescue equipment.

Jones said leftover funding approved in previous years for road maintenance will carry over into next year, which helped the municipal budget stay low. This year’s funding for road maintenance is $20,000 lower than last year.

No town projects are being delayed or neglected to keep the budget low, according to Jones.

The only change made to the municipal budget was when Phippsburg Selectwoman Julia House suggested the town raise its annual donation to the Bath Area Food Bank to $3,000 instead of $1,700 as a thanks for feeding local families who are struggling during the coronavirus pandemic. This amendment, which garnered full support from residents, brought the town’s donation total to $23,700.

Jones said another thing that helped the budget remain low is a reduction in the number of Phippsburg students in RSU 1, which caused a $4,193, or 0.14%, decrease in RSU 1 funding from last year, a budget that caused increases in other district towns.

The new RSU 1 spending plan, approved by voters in July, is up 12.8%, which Superintendent Patrick Manuel said is due to the first payment on the local share of the new Morse High School and Bath Regional Career and Technical Center, which is now under construction. Without the bond payment, the increase would have been just 3.11%.

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