Houlton council gets first look at 2022 fiscal budget|

2 years ago

HOULTON, Maine — If the initial projections hold true, the town of Houlton should once again be able to hold its current tax rate, which means residents will not see a jump in their tax bills next year.

The Houlton Town Council got its first look at the 2022 budget during a workshop session Monday, Dec. 20, and gave consensus approval to an $11.5 million spending plan. That plan will allow the town to keep its current mill rate of 22.6 for next year, provided there are not any large increases in the RSU 29 budget or County Tax.

“We feel this is a fiscally responsible budget for today’s times,” Houlton Town Manager Marian Anderson said. “We tried being mindful of the (financial) struggles some of our residents are going through. We tried to be very conservative this year.”

Projected municipal spending is down slightly for next year at $8,933,956 — a decrease of $18,846. 

That decreased spending comes despite several line items seeing jumps from last year. For example, the town’s cemetery account at $98,098 is an increase of $33,374 from last year’s total.

Anderson said the increase was due to the town going out to bid for mowing services for its cemeteries. That contract came in higher than anticipated, resulting in the budget hike.

Across the board, non-unionized staff will receive a 2.5 percent cost-of living increase.

The Millar Civic Center budget, at $204,669, is up $25,419. Anderson said the increase is due to a desire to bring more programs to the arena.

To offset those increases, a number of accounts will have less money allocated to them next year. For example, because the town agreed to relinquish its claim on the Visitor Information Center, it is no longer necessary to fund the $42,625 for maintenance.

Additionally, Houlton’s ambulance service will be funded at $741,486, a decrease of $61,651. Despite the reduced amount, staffing will not be reduced in the department, Anderson said.

Because revenues are projected to be less than last year, due to a number of towns choosing not to renew their ambulance contracts, the town will need to dip into its reserve account to help balance the budget.

The town plans to use $551,577 from its undesignated fund balance for next year’s budget.

Board of Budget Review chairman David Gates said that while that amount may seem large, there is still just over $2 million in the town’s surplus account, more than enough to cover the town in the event of an emergency.

Only one line item — other agencies — drew discussion. Other agencies include funding for the Chamber of Commerce, Cary Library, Northern Maine Development Commission, Aroostook Area Agency on Aging, LifeFlight of Maine and the Snowmobile Club.

It was the LifeFlight of Maine request of $1,531 that elicited responses. The town has historically not provided funding for LifeFlight.

Councilor Sue Tortello said she was not against the mission of LifeFlight, but was opposed to providing funding for the service.

“I am not debating the worthiness of this organization,” Tortello said. “They provide an invaluable service. But we have never funded this in the past and I believe none of the four largest service centers (Fort Kent, Caribou, Presque Isle and Houlton) which all happen to have hospitals, have contributed to this organization. I am not sure the municipality is the appropriate place to fund.”

Councilor Eileen McLaughlin strongly disagreed, stating the request of $1,531 was “probably the best spent investment we can have in the town.”

A public hearing on the municipal budget will be held Monday, Jan. 3, at 6 p.m. in the council chambers and online via Zoom for those that wish to make comments on individual line items.