Presque Isle public works director says department ‘chronically underfunded’

6 years ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The city’s budget workshops continued Wednesday evening at City Hall where department heads shared proposed 2018 budgets and answered council members’ questions.

City manager Martin Puckett recommends setting the overall city budget total at $12,641,300. That’s an increase of $550,779 from the 2017 budget, according to an abbreviated expense summary on the city’s website.

The evening’s most thorough discussion covered the public works department, presented by Dana Fowler, public services director, who recommended a $1,825,802 budget for the department in 2018.

The city manager’s recommendation is lower and comes in at $1,748,848, which still is $91,442 higher than the $1,657,406 budgeted in 2017.

Fowler said he was asking for more money because the department has been “chronically underfunded” over the past several years. The department is facing staffing challenges, is in need of new equipment, and much of the existing equipment is in need of repair, he told the councilors.

The department needs a new plow, Fowler pointed out, has equipment that is worn out, and there are tools the department needs, but doesn’t have, which has forced it to borrow from other city departments and private businesses.

In order for the department to “catch up,” Fowler recommended putting $450,000 extra into the department over the next three years.

Puckett didn’t disagree.

“Due to budget constraints, the city has been unable to properly fund capital reserves, an issue that faces many municipalities,” the city manager said later in an email to the Star Herald. “This is especially true for public works and Dana Fowler’s comments during the budget workshop illustrates the need for more funding from the state to help municipalities maintain infrastructure.”

Councilman Craig Green similarly said in a message to the Star-Herald that “the budget has been very tight for many years and capital accounts that are set aside for future purchases of equipment and infrastructure have been underfunded.”

Green said that underfunding was “due to the over $1 million that the state has short changed the city of Presque Isle on an annual basis.”

Because of revenue sharing curtailment, the city has had to focus on “many” areas of the budget to economize on, the councilor said.

“The capital accounts have been an item that we have not increased to keep the mill rate stable over the last few years. Now that we have accomplished some of the restructuring, we are taking a good look at how we can ensure that money is set aside to adequately fund the future maintenance and repair of city buildings and equipment.

“In essence we’re biting the bullet now to make sure that future generations of taxpayers as well as councils will not be saddled with this same situation that we are now reacting to from past financial practices,” Green said. “My Hope Is that as we continue to get funding to these accounts up to the level that is necessary it will allow for a more stable budget because of the ability for City departments to maintain their items in a manner that will not cause for spikes in spending due to deteriorating equipment.”

Members of the downtown revitalization committee, planning and development, police and public safety building, parks and recreation and the industrial council also presented and answered council questions at Wednesday’s budget workshop.

The public safety building’s department recommended overall total for 2018 is $328,645 compared to the city manager’s recommendation of $312,395. The overall total for 2017 is $132,770.

“The major difference here is a budgetary move of the dispatching positions from the police department into the public safety building department — another financial lateral move. It was to reflect the role of dispatchers for the fire department and police department,” Puckett said.

The planning and development department’s overall total recommendation for 2018 is $65,927 compared to the city manager’s recommendation of $147,937. The overall total for 2017 is $67,377.

“The difference in the proposals is moving the code enforcement office back within the planning and development office to make it more focused on economic development and more customer focused,” Puckett said. “ Right now the code department is within the fire department. These are two existing positions and would be a lateral financial move.”

The parks and recreation department’s overall total recommendation for 2018 is $1,001,832 compared to the city manager’s recommendation of $974,998. The overall total for 2017 is $901,629.

“The major difference in the rec department budget has to do with the proposal to add an outdoor programmer position, a full time maintenance position, rather than have part-time seasonal workers, and an anticipated increase in minimum wage. We have many part time positions that have been affected by the minimum wage increase that work at the rec department,” Puckett said.

Councilors won’t make any decisions until they have heard from every department head. They are expected to begin deliberating and voting on budget items in December.

The city council will meet again Nov. 1 and the budget workshop will continue Nov. 8 at City Hall.