City Council preparing for murky dive into budget
PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Residents may want to attend a few upcoming city council meetings, to observe or share their thoughts on the evolving 2016 budget and spending on long-term investments.
A number of interconnected decisions await the Presque Isle City Council this fall and winter, including the full scope of the Presque Isle Community Center, the use of bond debt and $1.7 million in capital improvement requests by the fire, police, public works, parks and other departments.
The city manager’s baseline recommended budget, without the $1.7 million in requests for capital spending, would total $11.37 million, an increase of 7.5 percent over this year. Personnel costs, including salaries, insurance and benefits, would total $6.06 million, or 2.7 percent more than last year. General assistance would remain the same, at $70,000. The police, fire and public works would also all get modest increases.
Expected revenues for the city next year would be almost 2 percent higher than in 2015, bringing in an estimated $4.13 million and leaving more than $7 million in net spending — or $8.5 million if all of the department heads get their requests.
The various departments are asking for $1.7 million in capital improvements, representing the bulk of their collective $2 million increase request and $1 million more than last year.
“There are some requests from the departments that are warranted,” City Manager Martin Puckett told the City Council. The question for councilors, he said: “When is the right time to fund it?”
Indeed, the 2016 budget preparation weighs on the minds of councilors along with a number of other spending decisions that may or may not lead to the pursuit of tax increases in the coming years.
Among other things, the council needs to decide how much debt to incur through bonds to pay for the rest of the community center, and how much to spend on a pool or possible splash pad.
Of all the councilors, Richard Engels has raised the concerns of financial sustainability and trying to make the designs for the pool more affordable.
“I can’t see a pool costing $2 million; there’ve got to be ways to make this cheaper,” for example using a basic rectangular design, he said. “After all, we’re only going to be using this thing for six weeks to two months a year.”
Engels said he’s worried about alienating Presque Isle taxpayers to the point that some feel inspired to leave the city, as some residents of Caribou are considering doing in forming into the town of Lyndon to pursue more reasonable taxes.
“I don’t want Maysville in the same category. If we start raising taxes by a mill-and-half or two mills, we’re going to have a Maysville,” Engels said.
Editor’s note: There will be several chances to follow the discussion of the city’s budget and spending decisions, and to share your thoughts. A presentation from the city’s departments will be held Monday Oct. 26, and the first public hearing will be Monday Nov. 2. Both are at 5 p.m. in the city council’s chambers. The budget outline can be found online under the city finance department, or in print at the library.