Limestone town, school leaders propose increased budgets

2 weeks ago

LIMESTONE, Maine – Limestone residents will have a say Wednesday on whether to increase many expenses in both the town and school budgets.

The annual town meeting will be held at 6 p.m. June 12 at Limestone Community School’s auditorium.

School leaders are projecting a total budget of $4.86 million for this coming fiscal year, up from $4.75 million last year. The Select Board has endorsed that proposal but the town’s budget committee is recommending a $4.72 million total budget instead, according to warrant articles in the town’s annual report.

The school will receive $3.21 million from the state to fund local education. Members of the school committee, Select Board and budget committee are suggesting that the town raise $525,738 through local taxes. The town raised $518,451 last year.

In a written ballot, residents will decide whether to raise an additional $1.05 million through local taxes. In 2023, Limestone raised $969,052 in additional local funds.

Increased local funds are needed to offset upticks in special education enrollment, building maintenance projects and the tuition rate for sending high school students to other districts, according to the budget warrant articles.

The school committee and Select Board both support increasing the special education budget from $520,054 to $559,350, while the budget committee recommends a smaller increase to $540,746.

Tuition paid to Caribou and Fort Fairfield districts for high school students comes from the Limestone school’s regular instruction budget, which was $1.75 million total last year. Both town and school officials recommend decreasing that budget to $1.73 million this year. The budget committee supports a decrease to $1.67 million.

Facilities maintenance could increase from $552,321 to $613,876, if residents go with the Select Board and school committee’s proposal. The budget committee is suggesting $593,458.

For the town budget, Interim Town Manager Alan Mulherin, the Select Board and budget committee agree that putting more money into reserve accounts could help bolster the town’s equipment fleet and update tax valuations.

All are proposing increases for the following reserve accounts: $50,000 for public works, up from $25,000 in 2023; $50,000 for a new public works building, from $10,000; $200,000 for a capital road project account, from $140,000; $60,000 for the fire department, from $40,000; and $40,000 for tax revaluation, up from $8,000.

Though the town purchased a new plow truck this year, public works’ other plow trucks and equipment are aging and in dire need of replacement, Mulherin said. Since $260,000 of the current $283,278 is being used for the latest new truck, that will not leave room for more equipment upgrades.

The public works garage on Leighton Avenue is over 60 years old. Earlier this year, the Select Board agreed to explore building a new garage near the end of Access Highway, but the town needs to start saving money, Mulherin said.

In April, Mulherin said that the town has applied for $4.2 million in congressionally directed spending for a new “municipal center,” with a public works garage, school bus garage and town office, which could take four to five years to build.

“The [current] public works garage is in such poor repair that our insurer recently dropped the collapse insurance and raised our deductible to $10,000,” Mulherin said in the town’s annual report.

Other reserve monies would help the town save for eventual new fire trucks, road repairs and a full tax revaluations of properties within town, Mulherin noted.

The town has not completed a full revaluation in 23 years, although one should be done every 10 years, Mulherin said. The revaluation account currently has $119,082 total but the total cost is estimated to be at least $150,000.

On Wednesday, the Select Board approved a contract with tax assessor Brandon Saucier to perform the revaluation and create new digital tax maps for the town. The town has contracted with Portland-based CGIS to convert handwritten maps to a digital platform that members of the public can access.

The Select Board and budget committee have disagreed on several key items in the town’s proposed budget.

The board wants to raise the future town manager’s salary to $100,000 to attract quality candidates and potentially negotiate a lower salary with them, Mulherin said. That would increase the town’s administration budget from $372,327 to $436,927.

Mulherin has not specified how long he will remain interim town manager but stated that his salary will remain at $82,400.

Budget committee members want to keep the future town manager’s salary at $82,400, which would give the town $419,327 for administrative expenses.

For parks and recreation, the Select Board will recommend raising costs from $62,000 to $86,933 to fund a full-time director. The budget committee is suggesting $59,142 to keep that position part time.

Trafton Lake Campground and Recreation Area reopened in May under the management of Limestone resident Jim Ireland. Ireland told the Select Board Wednesday that 11 recreational vehicles and two tent sites are at the campground this summer, with two more tents expected soon. The campground has room for 35 RV sites and 10 tent sites.

The town has lost money at Trafton but with new management, the Select Board wants to increase funding from $30,000 to $30,740 for maintenance repairs and to purchase a new lawn mower. The budget committee recommends $15,000, and is proposing that the town use its current mower.

Copies of the town’s annual report, which includes proposed budget figures, are available at the Limestone Town Office, 93 Main St.