Fort Fairfield generates most revenue in July since before financial crisis

10 months ago

FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine — For the first time since revealing its financial debt nearly a year ago, Fort Fairfield had its biggest revenue-generating month in the fiscal year.

Fort Fairfield began the 2023-2024 fiscal year July 1. In just that month, the town recorded $100,000 in revenue from town office transactions, mostly from vehicle registrations and related excise taxes. 

The town also received $200,000 in state revenue sharing in July instead of August, as it originally expected. The extra revenue meant that Fort Fairfield did not have to borrow from the $500,000 line of credit it took out from Katahdin Trust Company to offset revenue loss, said Interim Town Manager Dan Foster. 

“I anticipated that we would have to borrow $150,000 on our line of credit and we’d have $30,000 in cash going into August,” Foster told councilors Wednesday evening. “In reality, we didn’t have to borrow and we had $451,000 in cash flow. That means expenses are in line and our income is ahead. We have almost $600,000 in the bank.”

That bank account total puts the town on track to pay off its $1,275,000 short-term debt and get on stable financial footing after losing more than $700,000 in two years. Foster expects to pay off that debt sooner than anticipated thanks to the extra cash flow.

“I had anticipated us borrowing $950,000 over a seven-month period. Right now it looks like we’ll borrow $550,000 over a three- to four-month period,” Foster said.

In other business, town councilors unanimously approved all seven recommendations from consultant Catherine Ingraham, who led the Fort Fairfield Community Empowerment Project.

The town hired Ingraham in February to determine what actions officials might take to prevent future financial hardships and miscommunication among staff. After meeting with staff, Ingraham presented the council with seven recommendations.

Ingraham’s recommendations included adding a public comment period at the end of town council meetings for at least three months, and adding agenda items for department officials to update councilors on their latest happenings.

Ingraham suggested the town add a probationary period for the town manager position, and language in the manager’s contract that emphasizes transparency. She also recommended that the town’s attorney review the contract’s language before councilors approve it.

Town councilors agreed to establish a 4-to-1 minimum vote for passing the town’s fiscal year budget, spending more than $250,000, hiring a town manager and renewing employee contracts.

Foster clarified that the 4-to-1 voting rule won’t go into effect immediately. First, the town needs to amend its charter, hold a public hearing and then vote to amend the charter.

Councilors also approved Ingraham’s suggestion that town officials attend an annual team-building retreat and continue working with the budget advisory committee on the annual budget.

For now, the town council will not introduce the proposed adult use and medical marijuana business ordinance and set a public hearing until staff can finalize the ordinance’s language.

Since repealing their prior ordinance in June, which banned all marijuana businesses, Fort Fairfield has been working on a new ordinance that will regulate both recreational and medical retail establishments. Foster said that an ordinance will better position the town to regulate the industry while welcoming new economic growth.

“It’s not a question of whether we’re going to allow [these businesses], it’s a question of how,” Foster said.

Town Councilor Pat Canavan said she recently spoke with a resident who might be interested in starting a store, but wants to learn more about the proposed regulations.

Fort Fairfield Public Library had an extremely successful July, reported Librarian Barb Wells-Alexander. 

The library saw 493 people access services compared with 240 in July 2022. Fourteen of those people came back to the library after years away, compared with eight last year. Eight community groups have been regularly using the Shaw Family Room downstairs for meetings.

A $10,000 American Libraries Association grant has allowed staff to add a coffee and tea area, a heat pump and more comfortable seating in the Shaw Family Room for senior citizens. The library has installed ADA-compliant doors and will provide transportation to activities for eligible seniors. 

A $20,000 grant from the Stephen & Tabitha King Foundation will repair the library’s roof, and $4,000 from the Ruth Mraz Family Memorial Fund will go toward training a high school student to complete archiving work.

The library has seen increased attendance at regular events such as storytime, and drew in more people during a Potato Blossom Festival book sale, monthly art exhibitions and classes on floral arrangements and spray painting.

Wells-Alexander recommended that the council approve spending from $5,000 to $6,000 over a 10-month period to update the library’s adult and teen nonfiction section, which has not been updated in 40 years.

After an executive session, the town council approved the employment contract for newly hired Town Manager Tim Goff. Goff will start work on Oct. 2 and will meet with town departments in September to assist with the transition. 

Foster said he will be available until Oct. 19 to help Goff with any questions that might arise as Goff takes over the job.

Fort Fairfield Public Works will use $13,000 in its annual budget to pave a two-mile section of Forest Avenue in mid-September. The paving work will start at the intersection of Forest Avenue and Page Road, Public Works Director Darren Hanson said. The town council unanimously approved the project.

The next regular Fort Fairfield Town Council meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 20, at the town office, 18 Community Center Drive.