Gouldsboro officials rein in budget amid staff changes



 

GOULDSBORO — The Budget Committee and Select Board found nearly $64,000 more to cut from the municipal portion of the $6.151 million 2022-23 fiscal budget, which represents a 18.6 percent hike over the $5.186 million budgeted this current fiscal year. They also agreed on strategies to reduce the estimated mill rate of 12.3 per $1,000 of assessed value at their joint meeting last week.

At the May 18 meeting, Select Board and Budget Committee members opted to add $1,000 instead of $20,000 in reserve funds toward Gouldsboro’s future installation of drive-on scales to weigh trash more equitably and efficiently at the transfer station. They both favored postponing the addition of $10,000 to the Jones Pond Cabin Reserve Fund.

At a prior meeting, Town Manager Eve Wilkinson reported that the cabin’s current caretaker, Tate McLean, had done a nice job making the structure’s interior habitable. She said any unexpected work needed next year could be funded through the Jones Pond Cabin Reserve Fund, which stands at $45,000.

In addition, Wilkinson suggested that the town seek to extend a loan — rather than “ask taxpayers for money” — to shore up the town’s salt/sand storage facility off Route 1. A Rubb Building Systems product, the building was hastily erected several years ago in response to a Maine Department of Environmental Protection mandate. The building’s underpinnings have since eroded and the estimated cost to address the problem ranges from $35,000 to over $100,000 depending on the project’s scope. The town manager noted the town already had “paid at least three years on the loan” to acquire and install the Rubb structure and extending it would help diminish the budgetary impact on taxpayers this year.

“That sounds to me like a really good way to do it,” Selectman Danny Mitchell Jr. responded.

Selectmen and Budget Committee members also revisited the proposed public safety budget totaling $672,951. The draft 2023 budget, encompassing police, fire and the ambulance services, reflects a 26.1 percent jump over the $533,859 budgeted for this current year. Among the costs is $40,000 to make the Gouldsboro Police Department’s one part-time position full-time. The department currently consists of the police chief and a full-time and part-time officer. After some discussion, the consensus was to make the position full-time given community support for keeping the Gouldsboro police force despite its past instability. They took their cue from the 2021 annual Town Meeting, where voters rejected options to eliminate the Police Department and contract for services from the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department.

“If we are going to have a full-time police department, you need three [officers] or everyone is going to get burned out,” Select Board Chairman Dana Rice pointed out. “The townspeople made it very clear they want a full-time police department.”

Reexamining Schoodic EMS’s proposed $247,054 budget proved more complicated for selectmen and Budget Committee members because of the unanticipated May 16 resignation of the peninsula-wide ambulance service’s paid director, Tate McLean. McLean also stepped down from his paid position as Gouldsboro fire chief. He had worked in that capacity for seven years but had been a firefighter on the Schoodic Peninsula for 25 years. Up until now, McLean had doubled as both the Gouldsboro and Winter Harbor fire chief.

Started in 2019, Schoodic EMS serves Gouldsboro and Winter Harbor. Each town pays for a portion of the squad’s operating expenses. The squad had two full-time employees who included McLean and the squad’s office manager, Ken McCartney, who resigned earlier this year. In light of those resignations and to fill that gap temporarily, Sgt. Adam Brackett of the Police Department, who has extensive firefighting experience, is overseeing both Schoodic EMS and the Gouldsboro Fire Department. Paramedic Ken Monroe and firefighter/emergency medical technician (EMT) Matt Correia are both working full time on a per-diem basis to help handle scheduling, processing reports, stocking the ambulance and other tasks, according to Brackett.

At present, Schoodic EMS counts on nine volunteers comprised of four EMTs and seven ambulance drivers. The volunteers are paid $2 an hour to be on call during a 12-hour shift. Additionally, EMTs and paramedics are paid respectively a stipend of $75 and $150 per emergency call while drivers receive $50 for a round-trip ambulance run (to and from Ellsworth).

Since its inception in 2019, Schoodic EMS has been regarded as a valuable service by peninsula residents. The squad’s growing operating costs, however, have concerned some selectmen and Budget Committee members who have hoped the operation would be become financially self-sustaining. In January of 2021, McLean predicted that it might take 5 to 10 years before the ambulance service broke even. At the time, he noted the Maine Legislature’s recent passage of legislation authorizing MaineCare and Medicare to fully cover ambulance bills would help offset operating costs. He then was quoted by this reporter as saying, “Like anything [in its infancy], we are starting to bring in some revenue now.”

Nevertheless, Schoodic EMS’s costs are spiraling as shown in its projected 2023 budget of $263,040 — a 43 percent jump — from $172,054 budgeted this fiscal year. Boosting the squad’s service fees is among the strategies being explored to make the ambulance service more cost-effective.

“That in some small way may offset some of this increase,” Budget Committee Chairman Dwight Rodgers said.

The Select Board Chairman agreed. “Absolutely, we need to raise the fees for the ambulance service,” Rice declared.

The real elephant in the budgetary room, though, is Gouldsboro’s $3,534,280 share of Regional School Unit 24’s 2022-23 budget of $21,711,625 for the 2022-23 school year. Gouldsboro’s portion represents a $481,277 rise — 16 percent — over its $3,053,003 appropriation for the 2021-22 school year. While most of the increase represents debt service for the new Charles M. Sumner Learning Campus, the escalating costs greatly concern both selectmen and Budget Committee members, who are grappling with a projected mill rate hike from $10.25 to as much as $12.30 per $1,000 of assessed value. The rough estimate was provided by Pittsfield-based assessor RJD Appraisal.

Consequently, both Select Board and Budget Committee members planned to register their concerns in person at RSU 24’s annual district budget meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 25, at Sumner Memorial High School. At the meeting, registered voters in RSU 24’s nine member towns had a chance to weigh in and cast their votes in a written ballot on the proposed budget. Those towns include Eastbrook, Franklin, Gouldsboro, Mariaville, Sorrento, Steuben, Sullivan, Waltham and Winter Harbor.

 

Letitia Baldwin

Arts Editor at The Ellsworth American
In addition to editing the Arts & Leisure section, Letitia edits special sections including Out & About, Overview, Health Quarterly, Your Maine Home, House & Garden and Get Ready for Winter. She comes from Chicago, Ill, but has deep family ties to the Cranberry Isles. [email protected]

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