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Finance committee recommends proposed $5.1 million town budget

MADAWASKA, Maine — Following a review of updated revenue and expense projections at their April 10 meeting, members of Madawaska’s Finance Committee endorsed the $5.1 million 2017-18 budget proposed by Town Manager Ryan D. Pelletier.

The Board of Selectmen voted, April 3, to move the same spending plan to the finance committee for review. Selectmen still have an opportunity to review and adjust the proposed $5,091,868 municipal budget, which does not include the school department or county tax assessment, prior to the annual town meeting this summer.

Pelletier worked with municipal department heads and the town’s Director of Finance Dana Gendreau to find more than $106,000 in savings following a first draft of the budget earlier this spring. Last year’s gross municipal budget was $4,889,075.

“We have done what we needed to to live within the same mill rate,” Pelletier said.

Committee members approved one change to Pelletier’s proposal, dealing with the town’s Emergency Management Department. Pelletier said the state would no longer be providing the $5,000 in grant monies used to help fund the town’s EMA office.

Members approved reducing the EMA budget by $4,000, retaining approximately $5,600, most of which is earmarked for the director’s stipend. The town’s EMA director also serves as the fire chief, and Pelletier said it could be difficult to retain or hire a new qualified fire chief if the EMA director stipend was not part of the compensation package.

On the revenue side, Pelletier told committee members Monday he anticipates the town’s revenue sharing from the State of Maine to be up by approximately $21,000 next year, increasing from $214,000 to $235,000.

In past years, Madawaska had received upward of $600,000 in revenue sharing, said Pelletier. However, in order to address statewide shortages and because of of a  depressed economy in recent years, that amount has been reduced. Also, the state is refunding only 2 percent of statewide income and sales tax back to local towns, instead of the full 5 percent as called for in the revenue sharing law.

Pelletier also anticipates an increase of $11,000 in contracted services with other towns, for work the Madawaska Code Enforcement and Community Development offices will do.This would more than cover the anticipated loss of approximately $8,000 in building permit and inspection fees.

While new commercial and real estate construction and renovations have been brisk in the past year, Pelletier commented that he does not want to count on that continuing, and so used a more conservative figure for the 2017-18 budget.

With the addition of a second on-call ambulance crew, Pelletier told committee members he anticipates an additional $94,000 in Ambulance Department revenues, due to fewer calls being handled by non-Madawaska emergency medical services agencies.

In addition to these new reimbursements and EMS fees, Pelletier added that the town would begin to bill patients and insurance carriers more accurately for EMS calls.

Among the cost-saving measures proposed by Pelletier, finance committee members recommended decreases in appropriations to several social service organizations including Maine Acadian Heritage Trail, American Red Cross and the St. John Valley Soil and Water Conservation District.

The town manager said approximately $48,700 would be saved by not filling a position vacated with the recent resignation a town office employee. Also, a full-time employee with the Parks and Recreation Department is expected to retire and return as part-time, saving approximately $16,000 in wages and related expenses.

Madawaska Town Manager Ryan Pelletier and Finance Director Dana Gendreau review the proposed 2017-18 municipal budget with members of the town’s Finance Committee, Monday, April 10, at the town office. (SJVT/FhF photo | Don Eno)

Pelletier also reduced the budgeted cost of living increase for town employees from 2 to 1.25 percent, in order to propose a municipal budget that holds the line on taxes.

The town manager also recommended reducing general supplies expenses by $2,500 and town office minor equipment upgrades by $3,000.

Finance Committee members also recommended Pelletier’s suggested increases of $2,500 for legal fees and $2,000 for travel and training expenses.

Selectmen are considering asking voter approval to utilize $300,000 from the town’s “undesignated fund balance,” to help cover special project and capital improvements over the next five years, Pelletier told committee members. This would be done as a sort of loan, with the town paying itself back at the rate of $60,000 per year.

“We do have a healthy undesignated fund balance,” finance committee member and selectman Don Chasse said at Monday’s meeting. Selectmen had considered seeking outside loans to fund such projects, he said, but that would mean paying interest.

Selectmen recently created an ad hoc committee to further explore this idea and prioritize projects. Monday, finance committee member Dave Morin agreed to serve on that committee.

An article proposing such a use of undesignated funds would be on this summer’s annual town meeting warrant.

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