Bridgton budget panel trims nearly $300,000

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

With an uncertain state revenue picture, Bridgton’s Budget Advisory Committee felt duty-bound this year to wield sharp scalpels, recommending nearly $300,000 in municipal budget cuts across nearly every department.

“As far as all the department heads had to cut their budgets, we had to cut them more,” BAC Chairman Bill Vincent told selectmen Tuesday.

In a related matter, Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz was expected to testify in Augusta Wednesday against Gov. Paul LePage’s plan to cut back on state revenue assistance to towns, saying LePage’s plan “tears across the fabric of municipal finances,” resulting in a $363,348 revenue loss to Bridgton alone.

Vincent said the BAC went through the budget line by line, attempting to “chip away” at expenses so that no one department would be hit too hard. The committee also recommended adding $8,150 in new expenses, for a net budget savings of $291,535.

The breakdown of proposed cuts as provided to the board was as follows:

• Police Department — $8,433, by keeping the open shift as recommended by Police Chief Kevin Schofield.

• Fire Department — $6,252, by maintaining call pay at its current $11 per hour rate. Possible additional savings could come from alternative ways to meet physical examination requirements.

• Vehicle Maintenance — Reevaluate diesel fuel costs after winter season to determine final budget amount.

• Transfer Station — Additional staff person hired should be at half-time, instead of full-time.

• Outside Agencies — Cut $10,000 from Lake Region TV’s $41,000 budget.

• Capital Expenditures — Cut $25,000 from paving, $35,000 from fire department truck replacement, $40,000 for public restrooms, $15,000 from the $50,000 budgeted for Town Hall, $50,000 for a public works department wheeler, $85,000 for the Ham Complex, $20,000 for archive shelving, and $2,000 for new linoleum flooring for the police department.

• Economic Development — $3,000 for travel allowances.

In terms of additions to the budget, the BAC broke down recommended increases as follows:

• Board of Selectmen — Ask voters in separate warrant article to raise $2,500 to cover a $500 raise for each board member, from $1,000 to $1,500 for the four regular members and from $1,500 to $2,000 for the chairman.

• Outside Agencies — Add $400 to Southern Maine Area on Aging, and $250 to R.E.A.C.H.

• Community Center — Add $3,000 by reinstating Fiscal Year 2013 amount of $71,500 instead of $68,500 budgeted. The Community Center requested $75,000.

• Woods Pond Water Quality — Add $2,000 as cash match (with $4,000 of in-kind support) for erosion control grant.

• Bridgton Historical Society — Create separate warrant article on society’s $3,100 request to fund Historic Walking Trail Project (The board voted Tuesday to fund the society’s request, rendering this recommendation moot).

The BAC also recommended supporting Brownfield’s request for $25,000 to help create a new Perley Mills Conservation area in Brownfield, Bridgton and Sebago. The committee recommended the funds come from the Moose Pond Trust Fund.

Selectmen will review the BAC’s recommendations at a later date before finalizing the Town Meeting warrant by late April.

In Berkowitz’s draft of prepared comments for the Wednesday hearing before the Legislature’s Appropriations and Taxation Committee, he noted that the town was facing a 4.76 tax rate increase under the governor’s proposal to cut state revenue sharing and other traditional sources of municipal revenue used to offset property taxes.

He said that if lawmakers did not step in, Bridgton stood to lose 17% of its revenues.

“We remain concerned that such actions would be construed as a fractured and mediocre approach to Maine’s future and the quality of life in our municipalities,” Berkowitz wrote, one that would “severely undermine the integrity of the statutory relationship with our state government.”

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