HOULTON, Maine — Although the next fiscal year is still two months away, town officials are already starting to look ahead to the 2015 municipal budget.
The Houlton Town Council held a special budget workshop Monday evening to review projected revenue and expenses for the next fiscal year, which begins January 1, 2015.
Houlton Town Manager Butch Asselin ran through his forecast for the coming year and said, thus far, the town is ahead of projections in terms of revenue coming in from property taxes.
“Our preliminary revenue projections for 2015 are $9,916,026, which is $233,546 higher than it was in 2013,” Asselin said. “We’re seeing an increase in excise taxes and I am also anticipating increased revenue from the ambulance service.”
Total expenses are forecast at $9,985,484, which means there is currently almost a $70,000 bridge to gap to balance the budget.
Pay increases for municipal employees, which were negotiated as part of a three-year deal, will add $98,570 to next year’s budget. Asselin said he was also factoring in 2 percent increase for department heads, which will add another $10,445 to salaries. Wages will once again be the driving factor in the budget, Asselin said.
“I am anticipating a 9 percent drop in revenue sharing for next year,” Asselin said.
The town manager added he plans to continue using TIF dollars to fund SADC, the Chamber of Commerce and NMDC so those expenses do not appear in the upcoming budget. He is also exploring the idea of using TIF funds to cover the expense of maintenance or replacement of 11 fire hydrants on the North Road.
“We are still working on ways to increase revenues,” Asselin said. “We’re also exploring the idea of taking out a five-year loan for a salt shed and to address some equipment issues at public works.”
Asselin detailed a number of suggestions, which could help reduce the budget. Those suggestions included exploring the idea of not filling vacancies when retirements take place; closing the Visitor Information Center during the winter; consolidating dispatch services; combining the code enforcement and tax assessor positions; and combing the police and fire chief posts into one public safety director.
Chris Stewart, the town’s new public works director, said a number of pieces of equipment were in dire need of replacement at the town garage.
“Almost everything I looked at is in fair to poor condition,” Stewart said. “There wasn’t anything that was up to par. A lot of stuff needs a lot of work. There are no spares, so if anything breaks it’s out of commission.”
The town’s backhoe and grader were in rough shape and not safe to run. He also described the town’s commercial snow blower, which removes the large snowbanks into dump trucks in the downtown, as a “time bomb.”
“Everything that is not safe to run is parked,” Stewart added.
Council Chairman Paul Cleary asked what items were in the pipeline to be replaced in the next budget cycle.
“When it comes down to the bottom line of the budget, we always delay and put off these things, which leaves us where we are now,” Stewart said. “If one of our snow plows go down, we’re in major trouble. We need to take a look at all of our equipment and see what is an immediate need and then go out and get a loan if needed to fix the issue.”
The town manager is required to present a budget to the council at the first meeting in November, which falls on Nov. 10. That document then goes to the town’s Board of Budget Review, who will hold multiple meetings to go over each department.