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Proposed city budget includes $2.69 tax increase


June 06, 2018
BERLIN At a public hearing last Monday, May 23, the city council presented the proposed fiscal year 2019 budget which includes a $2.69 tax increase which would make the tax rate $41.88.

Mayor Paul Grenier opened up the meeting and welcomed everyone. He said that the budget is "a working document."

The mayor noted that city positions are not affected by the proposed budget, but that schools budget is. Retirees positions have not been filled.

The departments combined originally requested $17,162,255. The City Manager, James Wheeler, reduced that figure to $13,302,438.

The original SAU 3 school budget request was $19,089,345 and it was reduced to $18,190,437.

The county tax was reduced to $1,760,000.

Wheeler said that in order to keep the tax rate level, the presented budget needs to be reduced by $800,000.

Grenier noted that there is six weeks left until the final budget is voted on, and that "surplus and revenues may be available."

In the line items, last year's budget for the mayor and council was $66,382. The proposed FY2019 budget increase is $71,658. The increase is due to the cost of the city audit. The city is required to audit the state retirement and liability accounts.

Administration is reduced from $1,032,253 to $1,023,959.

The two elections scheduled for this year will cause an increase in the elections budget from $9,831 to $16,386.

The budget for City Hall and other buildings is up from $51,240 to $52,847 due to an increase in heating costs.

Property/liability insurance is down from $90,157 to $79,605.

Central services remains the same at $25,000.

Personnel benefits are down from $353,205 to $349,262.

Contingency (emergencies or special funding requests) is the same at $9600.

Outside agencies is down from $69,397 to $62,619.

Cemetery is the same at $17,961 for maintenance of all city owned cemeteries.

The IT department is down from $150,950 to $147,900.

General government is down from $1,876,252 to $1,857,072. There is currently a proposed decrease of $19,000.

The Police Department is up from $3,203,000 to $3,229,510.

The Fire Department is up from $2,180,658 to $2,272,544. Two employees had been funded by the SAFER grant but this is no longer the case as the city pays for the employees now.

Street lighting is down from $156,200 to $109,000. The city will be upgrading to LED lights which is expected to lower electricity costs.

Ambulance service is up from $335,000 to $341,000. A study will be conducted to study the feasibility of the fire department taking on some EMS duties.

Berlin resident Rod Bengston asked what the ambulance money covers. Mayor Grenier responded that the ambulance operates within a budget and uses the money to subsidize operations. Bengston stated that he heard residents get charged a fee for ambulance services and he is concerned for the tax payers. Grenier replied that is a reason for the feasibility study.

Nicole Plourde asked when the study is taking place. Completion of the study is expected by mid-October.

Special Public Safety is up from $163,600 to $164,700. Total public safety is up from $6,038.457 to$6,116,754.

Housing is down from $138,300 to $62,380. Bengston asked why that budget is cut in half. Finance Director Patty Chase explained that the code enforcement budget, which had been included in the Housing line, has now been separated out due to the decision to hire a full-time code enforcement officer. Consequently, there is now a new figure for Code enforcement, $118,716. The money is for a code enforcement officer and a part time secretary.

Public Works is up from $1,924,929 to $2,041,056. Higher fuel costs and road salt lines have resulted in the increase.

Solid waste is up from $829,875 to $860,742.

Total public works is up from $2,754,804 to $2,901,789.

Health Department is from $1,901 to $0.

Welfare is down from $152,474 to $115,990. The decrease is due to half of the office clerk payroll in the City Clerk line. The position is shared.

Parks is down from $274,843 to $267,279.

Recreation is up from $150,086 to $154,601 due to an increase in fuel costs.

Library is up from $198,020 to $200,293.

Total community service is down from $777,324 to $738,162.

Debt service is up from $762,491 to $765,770.

Capital improvements is up from $203,996 to $553,410.

Bengston expressed that money should be used to repair the streets.

Total general fund is up from $12,551,624 to $13,072,061.

The school budget is the same, at $18,143,437. Grenier noted that the proposed budget "is set to be level funded."

Bengston asked why the school's budget is $5 million more than the city's municipal budget, given the fact that local schools only serve a student population of 1,100 for 200 days out of the year, compared to the city's population of 9,000 which requires services year-round. Superintendent of Schools Corrine Cascadden replied that it costs $100,000 per student, per year with special needs and that "k-12 education per capita costs are the second lowest in the state."

School capital improvements are the same at $47,000. Grenier noted that the city has lost $465,000 in state education aid.

County tax is up from $1,556,553 to $1,760,000. Grenier noted that this number will change depending on property values and reductions from the state.

Total general fund is down from $32,298,615 to $32,075,860.

The total bottom line figure for the budget is $40,758,466.

Mike Caron of Caron Building Center expressed that a $2.69 tax increase "would be hard on the city and residents." He also noted that it is becoming "hard to get people [to move] here."

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