2013-06-04 / Front Page

Biddeford council passes 6 percent increase

Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD — After several months of debate and discussion, on Monday at the Biddeford Middle school performing arts center, the Biddeford City Council approved the annual budget to begin July 1 and run through June 30, 2014.

The council voted for the city portion of the expenditure budget at $25.7 million and the education portion at $32.7 million for grades K-12.

The education portion won't be finalized until residents approve it at a public referendum, which is scheduled for June 13.

Also included in the budget is the city's portion of the county tax, at $1.3 million and more than $600,000 for adult education, bringing the grand total to $60.3 million.

The estimated mil rate will increase over the current rate by $1.01 per $1,000 of assessed property value, a 6.1 percent increase. For a resident with a home valued at $200,000, their new tax bill would be $202 more than the current year.

In an effort to temper the tax rate increase as much as possible, while at the same time attempting to limit negative affects on city services, several changes were made Monday to the proposed budget that the council passed initially.

Council members passed two amendments to reduce that initial budget. One amendment, proposed by Councilor Michael Ready, reduced the proposal by $337,000.

Ready said he conferred with Finance Director Curt Koehler to find savings. For instance, an $85,000 reduction to the debt service line reflected the real number, he said, and a $180,000 reduction to paving was found because the bid for the work came in lower than anticipated.

Councilors also passed an amendment made by Councilor Bradley Cote to reduce the budget by $200,000. Where the reductions were to be made would be at the city manager's discretion, with the caveat that the library budget be off limits.

Cote had proposed an even larger reduction that would have reduced staff at the fire department, funds for training in several departments and made other cuts.

Fire Chief Joseph Warren and Code Enforcement Officer Roby Fecteau said these reductions would impair their department's services.

“There are no good cuts,” said Cote, but “too many people say they can't afford a 6 or 7 percent increase every year.”

“If the public perception is that we've had serial increases, it's not true,” said Councilor Richard Rhames.

He noted that there will be an increase this year and there was one last year, but pointed out there were several years prior to that with flat funding and no increases.

A motion to reduce the increase to the library budget by $50,000 failed.

Ready said he didn't see why the library should receive such a large increase, at $83,000 or 25 percent, when other departments were receiving much smaller increases, largely to cover raises in insurance costs and cost of living wage increases. Some line items are even being reduced, he said.

However, councilors noted the outpouring of public support for the library.

Councilor Melissa Bednarowski said she received more emails, calls and stops in the street from residents in support of the library than any other issue since she's been on the council.

No changes were made to the school budget.

School committee member Jim Emerson said he would have liked a higher budget, however the committee didn't want to go through a similar situation as to what happened last year when it took four times before residents finally voted in favor of an education budget.

That caused chaos in the school department, he said.

Emerson said he hoped the public would support the budget passed by the council when they go to the polls June 13.

The new school budget is only 1.63 percent more than the current year budget, said Ready. He noted the vast majority of the increase is a result of a cost-shifting proposal by Gov. Paul LePage to require all communities to pay for Maine State Retirement for their school employees, a cost that until the new budget year had been picked up by the state.

The budget also includes the elimination of more than nine staff positions, said Superintendent of Schools Jeremy Ray.

Mayor Alan Casavant he would go along with the total budget passed by city council. However, he said, he's afraid of what effect decisions at the state level would have on the city.

The Legislature has been discussing reducing or even eliminating state revenue sharing to all municipalities. This is a fee, said City Manager John Bubier, that Maine communities receive from state government in exchange for a tax they gave up years ago. Biddeford receives $1.6 million in revenue sharing, and if that were significantly reduced, it could require significant staff and service reductions, he said.

— Staff Writer Dina Mendros can be contacted at 282-1535, Ext. 324 or dmendros@journaltribune.com.

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