Limestone could see significant mill rate increase with proposed budget

1 year ago

LIMESTONE, Maine — Limestone residents will vote on their annual town and school budgets this week, which, if passed, could lead to the highest mill rate jump in at least a decade.

In September, the town’s Select Board approved a decreased mill rate, from 30.9 mills to 28 mills per $1,000 of property value. The town’s mill rate had been 25.16 and 20.62 mills in 2020 and 2019, respectively, according to Maine Revenue Services. The lowest rate came in at 19.91 in 2011, according to state records.

But budget increases will likely drive up the current mill rate by at least five to six mills, if passed in full Wednesday, said Interim Town Manager Walt Elliot.

Elliot could not give an official mill rate projection because the town’s annual audit is still being finalized by the Buxton-based accounting firm RHR Smith & Company.

“It’s mostly the school budget [driving the mill rate],” Elliot said. “If it was just the town budget, we’d be looking at a reduced rate.”

If approved by voters, the town could potentially reduce the tax commitment with $252,000 in homestead and business equipment tax exemptions, $550,000 in state revenue sharing and $76,300 in revenues from Loring Development Authority for ambulance coverage and/or $487,701 from revenue accounts.

Residents will vote on the budget at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 14, in the Limestone Community School auditorium. 

The meeting follows a contentious budget season last year. Residents repeatedly cut expenses in the town budget after saying that the Select Board’s proposals were too burdensome for taxpayers. The school budget vote was delayed one month after residents demanded that officials lower the total cost.

Limestone Community School’s committee has proposed a $4,756,393 total budget, which the Select Board approved in May. Last year’s budget was $4,341,088.

The proposed regular instruction expenses total $1,753,851 compared to $1,354,534 last year. Special education total has gone from $293,738 last year to the $520,054 that school committee members are proposing.

Other increased expenditures include: system administration, from $105,374 last year to $159,987 this year and school administration, from $179,533 to $204,502.

School officials have attributed the increases to higher employee wages and health insurance costs and outsourcing special education students with more severe challenges to other schools.

The school district expects to receive $3,339,670 from the state for funding public pre-K to grade 12 education. Officials recommend that Limestone allocate $518,451 of taxpayer funds toward that $3.3 million total. They are requesting that residents approve an additional $969,052 to fund the portion of the total school budget not covered through state funds.

Some of the highest town budget items include: Limestone Fire Department, from $84,406 last year to $100,100 this year; Parks & Recreation, from $62,000 to $106,426; Public Works, from $437,200 to $536,200, Robert A. Frost Memorial Library, from $81,539 to $84,780 and Administration, from $284,975 to $372,327.

The town attempted to hire a part-time recreation director after residents cut that budget, but no suitable candidate came forward.

“Now we’re looking at creating a full-time position,” Elliot said.

The Public Works budget leaves room for at least one more full-time employee, which the town has struggled to find, Elliot said. The current employee wages increased by 3 percent last fall, per the Select Board’s request, in an attempt to hire more people.

Elliot said that health insurance expenses are driving up most of the administrative costs, and that the fire department has set aside funds to purchase more safety equipment, including uniforms.

In addition to the budget, residents will vote in the local elections, held at the town office from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 13.

Jesse Philbrick is running for another three-year term on the Select Board. Alan Mulherin and Stephen Brooker are also on the ballot.

Charles Hartman is running unopposed for a three-year term on the school committee. If elected, he will replace outgoing committee chair Shaun Guerrette.

Robbie Caldwell is running unopposed for a three-year term on the Limestone Water & Sewer District board of trustees.

Copies of the proposed budget are available on Limestone’s website and at the town office, located at 93 Main St.