GOULDSBORO — It took an untold number of peppermints, microphone malfunctions, mask-hampered discourse and 16 hours of number crunching on often bitter-cold nights for the town’s Budget Committee to finalize and present a 2021-22 municipal budget of $1.992 million to selectmen last Wednesday night.
The spending plan is up 8.54 percent over the $1.835 million budgeted for this fiscal year. The proposal, which does not include school or county costs, was delivered a month early and will be voted on at the annual Town Meeting June 9.
Held in the Prospect Harbor Women’s Club building, spaced apart up front with the furnace fired up, the 11 committee members began meeting for two hours every week four months ago. Their deliberations were held in person save for a few members who faithfully tuned in from home via Zoom. One member attended one meeting virtually from Vermont while holed up in a camper during a blizzard. The town’s department heads and employees attended multiple sessions in person, explaining in detail their proposed expenses and providing more factual information to support them and in response to requests.
“We have a budget!” Budget Committee Chairman Dwight Rodgers declared at a joint meeting with the Board of Selectmen on April 28. Formerly the Prospect Harbor Union Church, the women’s club building — with its deacon seats, lofty windows and panels depicting coastal schooner days — added solemnity to the committee’s deliberations culminating in its recommending $1,992,302 in municipal expenditures in a 10-0 vote. The following night, April 29, selectmen voted 4-0 to accept and send forth that budget proposal for inclusion in the June 9 Town Meeting warrant. The municipal operating budget, adding $3.053 million in school spending and $209,374 in Hancock County taxes, totals $5,254,680.
At last Thursday’s selectmen’s meeting, Assessor Marc Perry told the board it was too early to accurately calculate the mill rate, but he agreed to give an estimate by month’s end. A mill equals $1 of tax for each $1,000 of assessed real estate. This past year, Gouldsboro’s mill rate stood at 10.45. That means a house with an assessed property value of $200,000 would be billed $2,090 in property taxes.
“Total valuation has gone up a little every year. I just don’t know what the number is going to be,” Perry noted, pointing out some building permits are still being processed. Nor did he know yet which properties will qualify for homestead, veterans and other tax exemptions. “I don’t like to throw out a random number if I can’t support it.”
In a cost-saving move earlier this year, selectmen decided to put off Perry’s proposal to conduct a town revaluation at a total cost of $88,000 over four years. At the time, the assessor noted some properties are assessed much higher than what they are selling for. He said complaints contesting such differences can arise and “you want to avoid abatements.”
To offset a tax hike, Budget Committee members last week unanimously backed drafting a warrant article to draw up to $100,000, “if the funds are available,” from unappropriated surplus to lessen the burden on property owners.
Municipal employees’ salaries account for $551,546 of the 2021-22 budget. The town currently employs 13 full- and part-time employees. They include: the town manager, treasurer, fire chief, police chief, one police officer, shellfish warden, assessor’s assistant, three deputy clerks, one of whom also is the office supervisor, Schoodic EMS office manager and support staffer and the town infrastructure supervisor, whose job also comprises code enforcement.
In the spending plan, all town employees are slated to receive a 1.3 percent cost-of-living raise.
Additionally, up to $80,000 is being budgeted for the town manager’s position. In several prior town manager searches, selectmen say they have found experienced candidates would not consider the job unless the annual starting salary was at least $80,000. Also, a warrant article will ask voters to raise an additional $20,000, giving the board greater latitude in its salary negotiations with candidates in upcoming months. If unneeded, those funds will go into the surplus account for reallocation.
In addition, $149,272 has been budgeted for the police chief and two full-time reserve officers. Depending on the town’s needs in June, one of the two reserve officer jobs could be split between two part-timers. The decision whether to replace Officer Eli Brown, who resigned in February, won’t be made until after Town Meeting, according to Town Manager Andrea Sirois.
Last month, selectmen took up separately and are recommending two separate warrant articles concerning the Gouldsboro Historical Society’s request for $8,000 as well as $2,000 asked for by the Life Line Food Pantry in South Gouldsboro.
At last Wednesday’s joint meeting, the Budget Committee pared down from 23 to eight the number of out-of-town charities and nonprofit institutions requesting funds. Committee members capped the town’s charitable funding at $3,000 and divided it equally among Community Health & Counseling Services, Downeast Community Partners, Eastern Area Agency on Aging, Emmaus Homeless Shelter, Hospice Volunteers of Hancock County, Families First Community Center, LifeFlight of Maine and Maine’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program.