Moves To Cut Budget Fall Flat



SOUTHWEST HARBOR — About 100 residents attended the annual open town meeting on Monday, approving a $7.72 million total budget in two-and-a-half hours.

 

The $3.24 million municipal budget received the most scrutiny during the meeting, with one resident, Eric Clark, repeatedly criticizing what he claimed were spending excesses in the budget.

The municipal budget represents a 2.2 percent increase from that approved for this fiscal year. Selectmen said they strove to keep the budget for all non-essential services at the level approved for this year.

Mr. Clark was particularly concerned about money set aside in the capital improvement plan to help pay for a backhoe-loader for the public works department. Purchase of the machine was approved by selectmen in January, contingent upon voter approval of the capital improvement plan. He noted the backhoe-loader was delivered in April.

Skip Wilson, chairman of the board of selectmen, explained that the vendor for the backhoe-loader knew that the sale was contingent on voter approval and is willing to take the machine back if the vote failed. Town officials were prepared to find an alternate method of financing the purchase if necessary, he added.

Mr. Wilson’s remarks failed to sway Mr. Clark.

Mr. Clark attempted to amend the proposed $428,800 for the capital improvement plan to this year’s level of $416,300 but his motion to do so failed. The recommended funding level was approved.

A proposed $428,660 budget for emergency dispatching services also met with Mr. Clark’s disapproval. Voters in a secret ballot vote on Tuesday considered whether to keep the service in town or shift it to the Hancock County Regional Communications Center in Ellsworth. All agree the switch would save money but proponents of in-town dispatching claim it provides better service to the town. (See election results in separate story.)

Mr. Clark said moving the service to Ellsworth would save the town “a chunk of money.” He added that the $20,000 charged by the town to dispatch for the Southwest Harbor/Tremont Nursing Service ambulance and Tremont Volunteer Fire Department was not enough.

Mr. Wilson said selectmen are reviewing the fees paid by the ambulance and Tremont with an eye at increasing them.

Tremont fire chief Wayne Patton applauded the personal service given by the town’s dispatchers and said emergency workers would never get the same quality of service from Ellsworth.

Mr. Clark said he agreed but “the bottom line is, we’re living in a failing economy and need to cut the budget.”

Selectman Kristin Hutchins noted that the vote would only fund dispatch until the switch is made to Ellsworth if voters approve the move.

The dispatch budget was funded at the recommended level.

School budget

The $3.15 million budget for the Pemetic Elementary School passed handily with little comment. Included in the Pemetic budget is $1.13 million in additional local funds that exceed the state’s essential programs and services funding (EPS) model by $1.09 million.

The EPS is a formula that determines the amount needed to fund a school of a certain size to adequately maintain a basic level of student performance. Pemetic, like many other schools in the state, exceeds the EPS because voters and school officials have chosen to offer programs above the minimum level. Exceeding the EPS requires voter approval. In a written ballot Monday, residents voted 89-19 to exceed the EPS.

The Pemetic budget, along with the budget for Mount Desert Island High School, faces a second round of voter approval at a June 8 referendum. This is the third year the state has required this referendum. This year’s ballot will give voters the option of doing away with the referendum, which school officials and others have characterized as redundant.

Two town meeting articles were successfully amended to raise the amount recommended by selectmen in the budget.

Sonia Fields’ amendment to raise the $7,830 budget for community service organizations by $500 was approved by a show of hands after a voice vote was inconclusive. Ms. Fields said she wanted to increase the $1,500 requested by Island Connections to $2,000. Island Connections, which provides services to the elderly, including transportation, recently hired a transportation coordinator and the extra funding is needed, she said.

An article to fund the Southwest Harbor/Tremont Nursing Service, which provides ambulance service to the two towns, carried after being amended to increase the $44,320 recommended by selectmen to the requested amount of $46,092.

A plea to increase the $56,345 recommended for Harbor House youth center and recreation programs was not successful. Harbor House executive director Elena Scotti told voters that failure to increase the funding to the requested $61,430 could lead to the need to cut programs. She suggested the extra money amounted to a “cost of living increase.” However, no one came forward to make a motion to amend the article.

The total budget of $7.72 million includes $1.2 million for the town’s share of costs at Mount Desert Island High School and a county appropriation of $290,000. Because these expenses are out of the control of local voters, they did not appear on the town meeting warrant.

About $7.02 million of the budget approved Monday will be raised from property taxes. Town manager Robin Bennett estimates a property tax rate of $9.07 per $1,000 in valuation to cover the budget. As a result, the owner of a $300,000 property will see taxes increase by $36.

For more political news, pick up a copy of the Mount Desert Islander.

 

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