2015-03-13 / Front Page

Port budget may rise 2 percent

Draft proposal of town operating budget up $128,000
By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNKPORT — When Kennebunkport Town Manager Laurie Smith took a first pass at her 2016 budget, following January submissions from all department heads, she found municipal expenditures set to climb $580,000.

“That came up to 29 cents on the mil rate, forget school or county,” she recalled March 5, at the first joint session of selectmen and budget board members for the year. “So, we had a talk at the department head meeting where it was said, I can tell you, ‘That ain’t happening.’”

Instead, Smith, department heads and cost center managers worked together, she said, to craft a budget “that sustains town assets in the long term without overtaxing the citizens in the present.”

In the end, Smith’s draft budget for the fiscal year to start July 1 is up $128,684 — or 2.2 percent from the current municipal operating budget of $6.37 million.

“I want to note to everyone that not all reductions in the budget are the ones we would heartily recommend, or request,” Smith said.

“The majority of that increase is in salary and benefits,” she added, citing a $59,000 hike.

The increase does not include $554,742 added to the town’s $60,000 contingency account, to set aside money for potential increases in union contracts, due to be settled before the end of the fiscal year.

However, part of the salary increase will be used to hire a new town clerk to start in June 2016, preparatory to the planned retirement of Kennebunkport’s longtime clerk, April Dufoe, on July 1, 2016.

The month’s overlap will help provide for a “smooth transition,” Smith said.

“Some of our department directors are starting to get ready to move into the next phase of their lives. As such, we have to start planning for how that department will move forward, and we’re beginning to see that in this budget year,” Smith added, intimating that Dufoe’s will not be the only top-level retirement the town will see in coming years.

Judith Barrett, Kennebunkport’s director of public health, said she also is planning to retire in two years, after more than 40 on the job in the town’s two-nurse office, which makes more than 2,000 home visits per year. Kennebunkport is believed to be one of only two or three towns left in Maine with an office like Barrett’s, after nurses were dispatched to all Maine towns when so many doctors when overseas in World War II. She also oversees the town’s general assistance office.

Barrett’s plan, she said, is to hire an assistant director to work 21 hours per week, leading to an eventual transition. That means a $11,767 increase in her $160,479 budget. However, Barrett’s cutbacks include eliminating the perennial $300 uniform fund.

“No longer do we wear the dresses and little blue hats,” she said.

According to Dufoe, the benefits line is also up due to a 1.1 percent increase in the town’s required contribution to the Maine Public Employees Retirement System.

And that’s not the only place where MainePERS will hit the town in the pocketbook this coming year.

“On the revenue side we woke up on the first day of budget [season] with a $200,000 loss,” Smith said, explaining that the town had been enjoying a MainePERS credit it had been using to cover costs.

“That credit dried up this year,” she said.

Dufoe also said she is planning a 10 percent increase in health insurance premiums starting in January 2016, based on expected staffing and employee participation levels.

Another healthy hike will come in IT (information technology) services. Currently, the town contracts with county government to maintain its system of 41 computers and six servers, paying $12,000 per year.

“It’s a service that I would call kind of a Band-Aid service,” Smith said. “There are many times when we are not functioning well, let alone at optimum levels. I have concerns about the safety of the systems and the databases that we have here.”

In search of a solution, the town solicited quotes, experiencing a fair bit of sticker shock when estimates came in at more than $50,000.

Instead, the town is looking to remove some nonnetworked computers from the proposed contract, such as at the town pier and the recreation department, and will put out a new request for proposal is after the budget is finalized. Even so, while it may yet limbo under the $50,000 line, the increase is expected to easily eclipse the current expense, Smith said.

“Even so, it’s not going to be the Cadillac service by any stretch of the imagination,” she said.

The first draft of the 2016 budget included a plan to put a custodian on the town’s payroll to replace the contracted janitorial service.

“To level of services that we get I don’t think helps us maintain the buildings we have and show pride in them,” Smith said.

The extra employee fell under the ax however, and instead Smith added $2,000 to the budget to bid out a new contractor.

“The get a higher level of services than we are getting now, we may have to pay a little more,” she said.

One significant savings for taxpayers will be in the town’s legal fees account. Baring anything unforeseen, the last round of lawyer bills from the ongoing Goose Rocks Beach access case will come due next year, allowing Smith to comfortably lop $22,000 of that line item, reducing it to $138,000. As recently as FY 2013, Kennebunkport’s annual expense for legal fees had topped $362,000.

“We have not wavered ever in our commitment to seeing this through, but most of the title work has already been done at this point,” said Selectmen Stuart Barwise.

Werner Gilliam, director of planning and development, said the budget for his department is down about $20,000 to $330,993. That’s thanks in part to the fact that 60 percent of the budget for the four-person department is covered by permit fees on building, which last year topped $24.8 million.

“I don’t think a lot of people realize the amount of construction activity that goes on here,” he said.

With 54 percent of her budget covered by program fees, Parks and Recreation Director Carol Cook said her $335,853 bottom line covered by taxes is up by just $3,000.

Cook said she plans to hire a summer day camp director to free up rec department workers for other programming, However, Cook said she expects the director’s salary to be offset somewhat by $10,000 in anticipated new revenue. Other new spending for her department will include completion of the nine-hole disc golf course at Parson’s Field, rejuvenation of Silas Perkins Park, cosmetic repairs to the park at Crow Hill, and planting perennials in the park at Beachwood.

Police Chief Craig Sanford said his $1.39 million budget is down $1,104 in large part because his department is now fully staffed. With one new officer at the police academy in Vassalboro the need for overtime and other related expenses is negated.

“I was actually down two and a half [officers] at some times, last year,” he said.

Fire Chief Allan Moir said he knocked $7,192 from his budget, bringing it to $378,495, by reducing the line item to pay the town’s on-call firefighters.

“I think I can live with that, but you never know,” he said, noting that last year the department answered 205 emergency calls, up from an average that runs closer to 150-160 calls per year.

“We’re also up on mutual aid calls,” he said. “We actually did 22 of them last year, and 11 of them were to Biddeford. We, meaning my chiefs, my training officers, and my firefighters, have brought the level up that we are now responding to a full-time fire department in Biddeford to assist them. Again, 11 times last year. I consider that an accomplishment.”

Road Commissioner Michael Claus said his $852,523 budget includes hiring a new mechanic to replace Russ Welch, who is scheduled to retire “for the second time” on May 29. Other than that, Claus said his public works and highway changes contain “not a lot of changes” apart from downward shifts to maintenance and upticks in overtime in anticipation of next year’s winter season.

Claus is requesting $30,000 to cover overtime hours for plow drivers next year. So far this season, Smith said, the town has spent $38,000.

“We are looking at what it will take to fund a highway department for a normal winter season, whatever that may be,” Smith said, drawing laughter form the room.

Claus credits Welch dropping to part-time status in his final months with “saving my budget,” while Smith noted the proposed numbers “will not cover” another winter like we’ve seen so far this season.

“We do anticipate it will cover the average winter. We just want to make sure there’s full disclosure on that,” she said.

Following their initial session, selectmen and budget board members were slated to meet next on March 12, to consider capital improvement projects. That session will be followed by another joint session no March 19 to go over requests from outside agencies, town committees and area social services.

Selectmen are scheduled to vote on their final budget recommendations on March 26, while the budget board will follow suit on April 2.

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