Paris voters get two budgets for consideration

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PARIS — If voters approve either of the proposed fiscal 2019 budgets recommended by selectmen and the Budget Committee, they should see a decrease in their taxes, according to calculations by Selectman Scott Buffington.

How much of a decrease depends on which plan, if any, is approved at Annual Town Meeting, which gets underway at 9 a.m. Saturday, June 16, at the Paris Fire Station, 137 Western Ave. Buffington’s estimates range from a 7-cent to 25-cent decrease in the mil rate. The current mil rate is $16.80 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Buffington noted the selectboard approached the budget process a different way this year, collectively logging 60 hours of research on the matter instead of approving the budget during a two-hour meeting like last year.

“The concept behind this budget was to improve efficiency by a detailed line items analysis, comparing several years of actual spending to determine projected numbers. We combined some duplicate accounts, eliminated some line items being funded but not utilized, and reallocated others,” he said in an email.

He noted selectmen made sure the proposed budget “provides the current municipal services the town is accustomed to. Any additional requested increases will be funded through the several reserve accounts in various departments.”

Under the selectmen’s plan, the town’s operating budget is roughly $3.8 million. Under the Budget Committee’s plan, it is roughly $3.7 million.

The town’s assessment to Oxford County is $334,929, which is up $50,413 over the current budget. Paris must pay SAD 17 $3,144,172, an increase of roughly $75,000, Buffington said. He noted the town had a rouhly $78,000 credit with the school district for overpaying for the year before.

Buffington and Selectman Gary Vaughn both agreed that there’s “not much we can do about that” regarding the money the town has to pay to the county and school district.

Selectmen and the Budget Committee recommend using $1,719,147 in revenues to offset the tax rate.

Buffington estimated if voters go with all of selectmen’s recommendations, the mil rate would drop between 7 and 10 cents. The same municipal budget next year wouldn’t require a mil rate increase, he said.

If voters approve all of the Budget Committee recommendations, the mil rate could decrease by roughly 25 cents, he said. But he added the same budget next year could increase the mil rate by 42 cents. This he attributes to the Budget Committee “shorting the road reconstruction line to fund department increases by using surplus.”

Town Manager Vic Hodgkins did not respond to requests for comment about the proposed budgets and mil rate projections.

Budget Committee Chairman Rick Little believes the committee’s recommendations brings financial stability to Paris.

“In my opinion, the Budget Committee’s thoughts are to stabilize the [mil rate] for a [five-]year stretch,” he said in an email. “Our Town has been in turmoil in the past and we think keeping a steady rate is better in the long run than yearly ups and downs. Our recommendations do that.”

Buffington touted the selectboard’s proposed budget.

“The selectboard budget does more to the roads, puts more into capital accounts, and does not require a mil rate increase next year for municipal services. Slam dunk!” Buffington said.

But not all on the selectboard considered this a slam dunk. Selectman Chris Summers, who was on vacation during the selectmen’s first budget meeting, is worried about future fluctuations in the mil rate now that he’s had more time to digest the budget.

“Scott wants to put more funds towards the mil rate to keep the mil rate artificially low. Part of me understands this makes us look like an attractive town for businesses to settle in and I get that,” Summers said. “I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t know what’s coming three years down the road. Maybe it won’t be a hiccup. … I have never been for buying down the mil rate. … I would rather see the money spent on the roads, which everybody complains about.”

Below are the recommendations from selectmen and the Budget Committee.

Administration

Selectmen recommend $456,437, which is an increase of $5,493 over the current budget.

The Budget Committee recommends $466,687, which is an increase of $16,036 over the current budget.

Selectmen reduced this originally proposed budget by $10,000, which included removing a $2,600 requested raise for Hodgkins.

“[I’m] not saying our town manager doesn’t need a raise when it comes time for that, but we have $60,000 in contingency,” Buffington said. “We’re look at using contingency for this year [so] we don’t have to raise that money through taxation.”

Debt Service

Selectmen and the Budget Committee recommend $177,870. This is up $43,000 due to the stormwater separation/catch basin removal project.

Police 

Selectmen recommend $637,152, which is up $417.

The Budget Committee recommends $647,402, which is up $10,250.

Buffington and Vaughn commended Police Chief Hartley “Skip” Mowatt for his proposed budget.

“Skip is doing a great job here. This one the first years he is coming in under budget,” Buffington said.

Highway 

Selectmen recommend $647,607, which is down $68,000.

The Budget Committee recommends $656,757, which is down $58,752.

“The Highway Department had the biggest decrease. Part of that is because they always bring back to the most money each year,” Buffington said, which was roughly $100,000 this time around.

Vaughn noted some Highway Department employees are “mechanically inclined [and] doing repairs themselves.”

“We’ve got some good help over there,” he said.

Fire 

Selectmen recommend $261,172, which is up $22,961.

The Budget Committee recommends $270,672, which is up $32,461.

Buffington said selectmen took the $20,000 requested for maintenance for oil changes, belts and tires, and “cut it out of their operational budget but moved it into their capital line.”

Solid Waste

Selectmen and the Budget Committee recommend $262,000, which is up $12,000.

Buffington noted the town only budgeted and spent $250,000 on this for the current budget because of the information given to selectmen by former Selectboard Chair and Norway Paris Solid Waste member Janet Jamison.

Parks & Rec

Selectmen recommend $41,377, which is down $3,657.

The Budget Committee recommends $63,072, which is up $18,038.

There were several requests for increased funding for new programming and developing the 1 Paris Hill recreational property.

“The selectboard is not opposed to these requests but would rather utilize current funds established within Parks and Rec already,” Buffington said. “Parks and Rec collectively has $93,000 in various side accounts. Let’s start utilizing this money before we raise more taxes.”

Community Services

Selectmen and the Budget Committee recommend $178,000, which is up $4,500. If approved, the Paris Town Library would receive $174,000 and the Hamlin Memorial Library would get $4,000.

General Assistance

Selectmen and the Budget Committee recommend $31,225, which is up $11,280.

Boards, committees

Selectmen recommend $6,340, which is down $350.

The Budget Committee recommends $6,440, which is down $250.

Unclassified 

Selectmen recommend $494,942, which is down $26,750.

The Budget Committee recommends $526,234, which is up $4,542.

The selectboard removed $20,000 from contingency, as this account will carry forward $60,000, Buffington said.

Capital accounts

Selectmen recommend $668,241, which is up $54,291.

The Budget Committee recommends $509,934, which is down $93,316.

Surplus

Also for fiscal 2019, there is $570,854 in surplus money. While selectmen and the Budget Committee gave voters the option to utilize the entire surplus to offset taxes, neither recommend it. Selectmen and the Budget Committee have differing recommendations on how to utilize these funds.

Selectmen recommend using $206,000 for road construction, $500 for Hamlin Memorial Library, $5,000 for the Paris Public Library capital fund, $217,000 to offset taxes, $50,500 to offset the school and county increases for fiscal 2019 and $91,854 to establish a future account for school and county tax increases.

The Budget Committee recommends using $157,566 for road construction, setting aside $190,788 for highway equipment (for a new screen for the gravel pit and a sidewalk plow), allocating $500 for Hamlin Memorial Library, saving $5,000 Paris Public Library for its capital fund and using $217,000 to offset taxes.

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Fund 2

Selectman Scott Buffington and Budget Committee Chairman Rick Little both noted that their respective proposed budgets are not without controversy. This comes down to selectmen and the Budget Committee’s recommendations on how to utilize Fund 2 money, which have asset and rollover accounts, according to Little.

This interest-bearing fund has monies received from sale of the Fox School for $124,185, Oxford County Regional Recycling for $66,023, Maine Public Employees Retirement System (MEPERS) for $56,268, and the sale of land near the Billings Bridge for $5,956.

Selectmen recommend using $252,433, plus interest. The Capital Highway Equipment Reserve would receive $175,000 and the Capital Fire Equipment Reserve would receive $77,433, plus interest.

The Budget Committee recommends only using $56,268 plus interest from MEPERS to offset taxes.

“The assets are easy, Fox School, Oxford County Recycling, etc. These can be accessed at [any time] by Town vote,” Little said. “The rollover accounts are not so easy. … Without knowing exactly which are OK and which aren’t … I can’t say yes to diving into them. The thought was that given a little more time our new bookkeeper and the rest of the staff can get definitive answers to answer all our questions.”