2017-02-10 / Front Page

Town’s draft budget is up 3.14 percent

Actual operating costs jump less than 1 percent
By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer


Kennebunk Fire Chief Jeffrey Rowe, at podium, argues for a new $500,000 fire engine at a Feb. 5 budget meeting attended by, from left, budget board members Thomas Wiggins, John Costin, and Larry Dwight, Selectmen Shiloh Schulte, Dick Morin, Chris Cluff, Ed Karytko, and Deborah Beal, Town Manager Mike Pardue, former town manager Barry Tibbetts, and Finance Director Joel Downs. Town Clerk Merton Brown is seated beside Rowe. (Duke Harrington photo) Kennebunk Fire Chief Jeffrey Rowe, at podium, argues for a new $500,000 fire engine at a Feb. 5 budget meeting attended by, from left, budget board members Thomas Wiggins, John Costin, and Larry Dwight, Selectmen Shiloh Schulte, Dick Morin, Chris Cluff, Ed Karytko, and Deborah Beal, Town Manager Mike Pardue, former town manager Barry Tibbetts, and Finance Director Joel Downs. Town Clerk Merton Brown is seated beside Rowe. (Duke Harrington photo) KENNEBUNK — Selectmen and budget board members in Kennebunk have completed their review of the proposed municipal budget for next year, making no edits to the proposal made by new Town Manager Mike Pardue, and is now in the midst of reviewing capital improvement projects voters will see on their June ballot.

The projects, which total $6.04 million, include refurbishing the transfer station and recycling center at the highway garage on Sea Road ($1.69 million), rebuilding parts of Summer Street ($600,000), buying a new fire engine ($500,000), repaving roads ($500,000), making design improvements to Route 1 near the Shopper’s Village ($400,000), and buying a new plow truck ($220,000), among the big ticket items,

That spending will not hit property tax bills until the 2018-2019 budget year, once the first payments on $4.96 million in new bonds come due. The rest of the capital improvement projects (CIP) budget will come from about $8.1 million the town has on hand in unassigned surplus money.

What is part of the upcoming budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, is $959,057 in payments on current debt service, up nearly $200,000 (2.48 percent) from the current budget, based, in part, on borrowing for CIP items approved by voters in June 2016.

Backing off the debt service payments, the proposed town operating budget is up just 0.66 percent, to $11.88 million.

“Considering a 1.5 percent increase across the board in wages and salaries, I think a 0.66 net spending increase in phenomenal,” selectboard Chairman Dick Morin said following a Feb. 5 budget meeting. “Mike [Pardue] and [former town manager] Barry [Tibbetts], and all of the department heads have done a masterful job of holding the line.”

According to Pardue, Tibbetts, who has remained on as a consultant through the end of his original contract term June 30, is in the midst of preparing a salary comparison study.

“We know that some of our employees are only in the 50th percentile when compared to like-sized towns in our area,” Pardue said. “So, I asked Barry to conduct this survey in order that we have all the data we need to remain competitive and not lose any of our great employees to our neighbors.”

Pardue said four employees have recently advised him of opportunities elsewhere, but have agreed to stay on pending completion of the study. Accordingly, some non-union jobs not already settled by contract could end up getting pay hikes greater than 1.5 percent, Pardue said. However, a $50,000 “placeholder” for any additional pay increases has already been included as part of the current budget proposal.

The new budget does not include any new jobs, but does feature what Pardue termed “minimal” increases in hours. These include asking the administrative assistant for the public services department to work an additional six hours per week, while the general assistance administrator will log four extra hours per week.

There also will be a boost in secretarial help for various boards and committees. Extra hours to help a town office staffer maintain Kennebunk’s social media accounts will be paid for out of TIF district revenue and not affect the town’s operating budget.

Despite higher wages, the town was able to keep the year-to-year increase under 1 percent thanks to revenue assumptions made about the coming year. The Maine Real Estate and Development Network has forecast economic growth of 2.1 percent across Southern Maine. Based largely on that, Finance Director Joel Downs said, the new budget anticipates $373,500 (9.1 percent) increase in revenues, to $4.57 million for the next fiscal year. Most of that increase is expected to come from an additional $200,000 in vehicle excise taxes, thanks to a strengthening economy.

The town also expects to book an additional $37,500 in building and plumbing permits as construction continues to rebound, an extra $25,000 in ambulance billing and $15,000 more in beach parking permits. In the case of the beach parking, at least, the increased revenue is already there, with Pardue and Downs simply recognizing that the town has been taking in more than anticipated in recent years, and now allocating those funds.

Throughout two days and about six hours of budget hearings last week, on Jan. 31 and Feb. 2, selectmen and budget board members reportedly had few bones to pick with the proposal, accepting Pardue’s draft as presented.

In part, Morin said, that’s due to an era of good feeling on the board, and increasing interest in hashing out issues before they get to final budget.

“Not to knock anyone who sat on the board previously, because everyone who has sat there has done so because they care a great deal about the town, but I think this current board gets along very well,” Morin said. “They’ve been willing to discuss and debate in a way that is largely free of confrontation. There’s a lot more of simply asking questions than anyone starting out by digging in their heels. That, as much as anything, I think, has allowed us to begin making some really good progress on things that need to be addressed.”

Selectmen and budget board members were scheduled to complete their review of the Capital Improvement budget Tuesday, Feb. 7. That meeting took place after the deadline for this week’s Post.

As currently proposed, the town’s operating budget for fiscal year 2018 would add 2 cents to the mil rate, while debt service would add 9 cents. The resulting 11 cent increase per $1,000 of valuation would add $27.50 to the median single-family home in Kennebunk, assessed at $250,000, resulting in a new tax bill for that home of $4,003. That, of course, is before new taxes from York County and the new RSU 21 school budget are added in.

The first public hearing on the budget will be March 28. Following public comment, selectmen may elect to make edits prior to May 9, when they’ll sign the warrant for the June 13 annual town meeting.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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