2018-02-09 / Front Page

Kennebunk budget up 6.57 percent

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — As initially proposed, the Kennebunk municipal budget for the coming 2018-2019 fiscal year is up 6.57 percent, or $543,722, to $8.81 million.

According to projections offered by town Finance Director Joel Downs, that will drive local tax bills up 27 cents per $1,000 of home valuation — or $81 on the median single-family home in town, valued at $300,000. That, of course, is before the impact of any change to school spending for the new tax year to start July 1, or a probable increase in taxes paid to run York County government.

RSU 21 makes up 73.4 percent of local property tax bills, and school board officials have warned for more than a year that this coming budget season will see the largest annual increase in payments on the $56.5 million school renovation project, now nearing completion. The county makes up 4.2 percent of Kennebunk tax bills, while town spending accounts for 22.4 percent.

However, selectmen are not done spending just yet. Since budget meetings began last week, they have added $7,500 to donations made to outside social services agencies, as well as $72,349 to the proposed police department budget. The town’s social services committee will meet later this month to decide how to allocate the additional funds, inviting all agencies that made requests, or have done so in the recent years, to make new pitches for a piece of that pie. Meanwhile, the police department hike will enable the hiring or two new police officers, an early request made by Police Chief Robert MacKenzie that was pared in half by Town Manager Mike Pardue, in his final draft budget presentation (see related story, Page 1).

Kennebunk selectmen met with the town’s seven-member budget board three times last week — on Jan. 30, Feb. 1, and Feb. 3 — to begin hashing out the new annual spending plan.

The new spending plan presented by Pardue includes a 1.5 percent wage increase for town employees —adding $86,250 to the budget — as well as $73,000 to cover new costs in health insurance and other benefits. New expenses also assume $50,000 in “salary adjustments,” $14,400 in new fire hydrant rental costs, a $12,900 hike in property and casualty insurance costs, $11,300 in extra spending on the library, $10,000 in non-vehicle maintenance at the public services garage, and $10,000 in new rec. department costs.

In addition to the new police officers, staffing changes proposed by Pardue initially include boosting the animal control officer to a full-time job from 25 hours per week, and taking on four per diem EMS workers as full-time employees of the town (with two to start July 1 and two to start Jan. 1).

Pardue has also proposed adding one additional lifeguard at town beaches during the summer, as well as taking on a parttime driver/laborer at the town garage and a part-time rec department programmer as full-time positions, both starting July 1.

“Why do we need more people?” budget board member Thomas Wiggins asked, Jan. 30. “Is the population growing that in the services we offer we have to keep expanding and expanding? We continue to raise taxes on the people on this town.”

Pardue said all the new positions have been on the back burner for several years, but have been deferred by the ailing economy. Now, he said, is the time to add in the needed positions.

“Their demand for services have increased,” he said, particularly at the fire and police departments. “We know our calls for EMS services are increasing, although, fortunately, there is a revenue side to that [in ambulance billing]. But we are trying to make up for some lost time, during hard economic times in the ‘07 to ‘08 period.”

Downs meanwhile, said indications are the that the economy is finally on track and healthy enough that local taxpayers an absorb the increase.

“I can thank the recent tax [federal] bill,” he said, pointing to recent pre-payments on the second half of annual property tax bills since the first of the year. “We haven’t even sent out those notices yet, but suddenly we received $1.6 million in allowed pre-payments, compared to what we normally get, which is about a quarter-million dollars.”

Also driving the new spending is an expected $136,000 hike in debt service, to $1.1 million, a 14.2 percent increase based on previously approved borrowing.

Not counting the debt service, capital expenses total total $1.7 million. Of that Down’s has said he expects $1.07 million to come from the town’s unassigned fund balance, or general fund surplus. He has not yet decided how much of the remaining amount should be bonded, and how much can come from other sources, he said.

The big ticket projects include making repairs to the Middle Beach sea wall (at an expected cost of about $450,000), as well Ross Road (at $850,000), Sea Road, from Summer Street to Heath Road ($289,000) and Storer Street ($165,000).

Other road work is planned on Parsons, Bourne, Water and Sayward streets, as well as Cat Mousam Road.

Equipment purchases are said to include a single axle plow truck ($172,000), a police cruiser to be outfitted for to carry the town’s first K-9 dog ($49,000), and two sidewalk plows ($320,000), as well as a debris vacuum trailer, a compressor for the fire department, and a three-quarter ton 4x4 pickup truck.

“It seems to me the town is biting off more than it can chew by a big margin. We have a conundrum here that we have got to solve,” budget board member Larry Dwight said.

“I think we solve it by saying, you plow your sidewalks.,” he added. “Many places do that. In Portland, you’ve got to clean your own sidewalks.”

“That’s a discussion for our ordinance committee, for us to give that some consideration and to have some hearings on that,” Pardue said. “That would put some additional onus on our citizens and business owners, but we recognize that we just cannot keep up with what we are asked to do, and we know that most every development that is being approved within the community incorporates a sidewalk.”

Pardue later said he will look into finding “a less costly alternatives,” for one of the two sidewalk plows.

Finance Director Joel Downs said he is anticipating a 3.43 percent increase in revenues from sources other than property taxes. Currently, the town takes in $4.57 million from these other means. Leading the expected new dollars, Downs said the town expects to take in an additional $60,000 in rec. department fees next year, as well as $50,000 in new ambulance billing, $25,000 in additional vehicle excise taxes, and $20,000 in interest on investments.

Pardue noted that some residents also are requesting construction of 3 miles of sidewalk along Summer Street leading to the beach. That would be a $2 million project, he said, not counting future maintenance. “That would add about $1 to our tax rate, just for that one item.”

Although he would eventually back MacKenzie’s request for two new police officers over the one suggested by Pardue, Selectman Ed Karytko started out the first budget meeting adopting his usual position as the board’s resident fiscal hawk.

“I’m struggling here,” he said at the first budget session, Jan. 30, asking Pardue there was any “fluff ” in his draft spending plan.

“I’m the one that doesn’t want to spend any money,” Karytko said. “However, I’ve gotten to the point that, hey, if it costs that much to run this town, then put it on the table. If the voters don’t like it, then they can vote it down.”

“I can say that I have full confidence that no division director requested something they did not feel was essential to the operation of their department,” Pardue said.

Still, Karytko openly fretted about new and potential future debt service.

“That’s one of the problems of borrowing money. It catches up with you at some time,” he said. “Here we are, with $1 million gone before we even start. How much more money are we going to have to borrow and what kind of an impact is that going to have two, three, four years down the road?”

In other changes, some of the new spending is not being attributed to local property taxes, as they are being shifted, to be covered by revenue from the town’s tax increment financing (TIF) districts. This money, derived from increased property values shielded by the TIF since its creation, already pays for most of the economic development director position. Downs said 50 percent of the salary of the General Assistance Director Karen Winton is paid by TIF funds because she spends much of her time promoting the towns’ three business districts on social media.

Also, as much as 25 percent of the salaries of Pardue and Town Engineer Chris Osterrieder will now be paid by TIF funds, based on the number of hours (expected to be as many as 300 per year) they dedicate to economic development projects within the TIF districts. In all three cases, Downs said, the full salaries are in the budget voters will rule on in June. The TIF will then reimburse the town for covered salary costs during the year.

Finally, selectmen and budget board members agreed to add $7,500 to the $34,100 already allocated for outside social services agencies.

Selectmen voted 5-2 for that increase, with Karytko and Dan Boothby opposed. The budget board also voted 5-2 for the increase, with members Wiggens and Thomas Calhoon opposed.

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

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