St. John Valley

Van Buren councilors vote to keep property taxes flat, relocate police department funds to capital improvements

VAN BUREN, Maine — Van Buren town councilors voted unanimously to add $125,000 to the capital improvement line item in the annual town budget, money that represents savings from the loss of the police department at the end of last year. 

The council reviewed and approved the final version of the proposed $2.68 million budget at a meeting on May 11. The budget will now go before the town’s economic committee before townspeople give the final say-so at the June 9 town meeting.

“It’s extremely unfortunate we lost our PD,” Councilor Peter Madore said. “But that money, without raising taxes, can be used for other things, and we all know we need a lot done in this town.”

Before this relocation — which will raise the value of the general government capital improvement account to $200,000 — councilors also added roughly $12,000 to a line item for building demolition. 

Councilors maintain that one of their chief priorities is to restore the town through the removal of derelict buildings, sale of neglected properties and other improvement projects. Right now, the town is waiting for news on a $100,000 grant it applied for to take down a collapsed structure on Main Street and replace it with a pocket park.

While the $125,000 the councilors voted to relocate is currently sitting in the capital improvement line, there is a chance it will have to be partially or completely relocated to the ambulance department. 

With rising wages and expenses, Van Buren Ambulance Service is anticipating a significant increase in its budget this year. The department is semi-municipal, meaning it’s intended to run entirely on its bills to patients and without additional cost to the taxpayer. 

That said, the shifting terrain in emergency services in the Valley and across The County — fees increasing, services closing down, towns banding together to save money — foretells a difficult future for the ambulance department. Councilors will review the ambulance budget at their next meeting on May 18. They agreed that after the loss of the police department, protecting the remaining emergency services will be a priority.

Outside of budgetary matters, the council also voted to raise rates on both sewage and garbage disposal. Residents will see an 8 percent hike in their wastewater bills going forward, bringing the cost for most residential homes from about $295 annually to $319.

For the past two years, sewer rates have remained flat, not taking their pre-scheduled annual 3 percent increases. Councilor Paul Nadeau said that Van Buren has remained one of the cheapest sewer towns in the area for years — and even with an 8 percent raise, the rate will still be significantly lower than in neighboring towns.

The councilors also voted unanimously to raise garbage disposal rates from 10 to 15 cents per pound to cover the total costs of running the Recycling Center.

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