Bridgton budget workshop

By Lisa Williams Ackley

Staff Writer

The Bridgton Board of Selectmen had some tough choices to make, at their budget workshop Tuesday night.

The selectmen said they were trying to be fair but firm — particularly by asking municipal departments and local organizations to step up and try to find creative ways, such as grants, to help fund capital equipment and other requests without adding more to the taxpayers' burden.

Whether it is the Bridgton Fire Department, the Bridgton Public Library, the Bridgton Community Center or the Bridgton Town Band — all are being encouraged by the selectmen to hold fundraisers to help defray the cost of budget requests to taxpayers.

It took over four hours and 30 minutes April 17 — as the five selectmen meticulously went through all 10 recommendations from the Bridgton Budget Advisory Committee  (BAC) and then delved into their own questions, views and concerns on specific budget requests.

The board of selectmen will hold a public hearing on the budget on Tuesday, April 24 at 6 p.m. — the night they must finalize the budget they will present to voters at the June 13 annual town meeting.

So, Tuesday evening, they hammered out their own recommendations to the proposed budget prepared by Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz and the various department heads.

When all was said and done, the selectmen increased the proposed municipal budget by a net of $3,442, to $4,001,902, according to Berkowitz. That would mean a total recommended budget — including projected assessments from School Administrative District 61 and Cumberland County — of $14,724,286, or an estimated property tax rate of $12.79 per $1,000 of property valuation.

The BAC made the following recommendations:

• Increase the Bridgton Community Center proposed expenditure for Fiscal Year 2013 from $67,500 to $71,000;

• Reduce the proposed expenditure for United Ambulance from $54,000 to $45,000;

• Reduce the proposed expenditure for Fourth of July fireworks from $1,000 to zero;

• Recommend all outside agencies be funded in FY 2013 at the same levels as FY 2012;

• The town should continue to own Salmon Point Campground on Long Lake, with the Community Development Committee developing a business plan "which allows for growth, ongoing maintenance and a reserve as well as maximizing profits for the general fund;"

• Increase the proposed capital paving expenditure from $300,000 to $450,000;

• Transfer $11,000 from the backhoe line to the container line for an additional container at the transfer station, as recommended by Transfer Station Manager Bob Fitzcharles;

• Delete a proposed reserve of $50,000 for a Bridgton Fire Department truck chassis for the FY 2013 Capital Expenditures budget;

• Recommend that "any additional dollars allocated to the Bridgton Recreation Advancement Group (BRAG) over and above the amount that may be received from the Moose Pond Trust Fund should be a warrant article to go before the voters of the town;" and

• All other proposed expenditures not mentioned in the above recommendations be adopted a presented in the 2012–2013 budget.

Bridgton Community Center — There was lengthy discussion about the formal Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the town and the BCC and the need to draw up a new one. The current MOU states the town will fund $75,000 or 45% of the BCC's annual budget, whichever is less. Even though the BAC recommended increasing the Community Center's funding from $67,500 to $71,000, the selectmen agreed to ask voters to fund $75,000 for the next two years, as in the past, with the understanding that the BCC Board of Directors will aim for the year 2014 (Fiscal Year 2015) as to when they will become a self-sufficient, nonprofit organization.

"I feel very strongly they should be on their own," said Chairman Arthur Triglione Sr. of the BCC. "We have helped them for the last five years, but I look to them to be independent."

United Ambulance Service — The BAC recommended reducing the proposed expenditure for ambulance service by $9,000, to $45,000. Triglione said that since United Ambulance added the Town of Harrison to its coverage area, a representative from United Ambulance said they could afford to take a reduction of $9,000, the startup amount they received from Harrison.

Saying Harrison only pays United Ambulance between $3,000 and $5,000 per year, Triglione said, "And, here we are at $65,000 (per year). If they want to increase their fleet and support equipment, God bless them — but I don't feel it should be done on (proceeds) from one town — us — Bridgton. I support the Budget Committee's recommendation."

Fireworks — The selectmen were split, 3–2, as to the proposal for the town to put $1,000 toward funding fireworks. They concurred to recommend that the $1,000 be reduced to zero.

Outside Agencies at Same Level as 2012 — Here, especially, the Board of Selectmen highly recommended that outside agencies that receive supportive funding from the town hold fundraisers to raise monies for items they say they need.

The Greater Bridgton Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce was a hot topic of discussion, with Triglione saying he believes funds that are currently directed to the Chamber should now be funneled to the Bridgton Economic Development Corporation.

"My recommendation is to cut (the $7,000 requested) by half," Chairman Triglione stated.

Selectman Woody Woodward, who owns the Highland Lake Resort & Conference Center, said he has "mixed feelings" about accepting Triglione's recommendation to cut funding to the Chamber, which represents 13 Lake Region communities.

Saying the BEDC was formed more with the intent to attract new businesses to town than to promote tourism, Woodward said, "At least four or five motels and inns in Bridgton are for sale and a number have gone out of business, and the BEDC isn't (intended) to promote those kind of businesses."

Selectman Doug Taft came down hard on the Chamber's past efforts, stating, "I'm not pleased with the way they're promoting us — and I haven't kept that a secret. I think there should be a drastic cut, if they're the only ones promoting us and all these businesses are going up for sale. I think they could do a better job via the Internet and sprucing up their website."

Referring to the selectmen's meetings being broadcast on Lake Region TV, Woodward said of Chamber officials, "I hope they're listening, because next year — if things don't notch up — I'll have no problem cutting this...Right now, they are the only ones we've got to do it (promote tourism) — but I think they should be aware, if we don't see things pick up...there's not going to be a free ride anymore."

So, the selectmen concurred to cut proposed funding for the Chamber of Commerce by $2,000, to $5,000 and said they hoped to see Chamber representatives at their public hearing on April 24.

Salmon Point Campground — The selectmen agreed with the BAC's recommendation that the town continue to own the campground — which is a stand-alone enterprise fund — and that the Community Development Committee should go ahead with its work developing a business plan that allows for growth, ongoing maintenance and a reserve, as well as maximizing profits for the general fund.

Capital Expenditure — Paving — The Budget Advisory Committee's recommendation to increase the town manager's recommended $300,000 proposal for paving up to $450,000 was also discussed at length.

Public Works Director Jim Kidder and BAC members said Bridgton needs to get back to a paving plan for the town that builds and maintains its road infrastructure — instead of deferring this capital expenditure year after year.

"We used to pave almost five miles of roads per year," Kidder said. "But then it (paving budget) flat-lined — if the school (district) budget went up, you (selectmen) went after the paving budget, and for five years, all we did was band aid roads."

Saying it has taken two years to complete the work on Mountain Road, Kidder said, "We can't take four years to do Kansas Road with school traffic..."

Selectman Taft said he agreed with the BAC's recommendation to increase the paving budget by $150,000.

Woodward said he believes the capital paving account should be increased "but tempered."

Kidder said of future work on Kansas Road, "We need to rebuild the sub-base, widen it where we can, blast where we have to and take some trees to open it up and put some sun on it."

I have just one comment," said Selectman Bernie King, "I go along with the $450,000 (recommendation) from the Budget Advisory Committee."

"I agree — I've heard it all — but I've heard it all before — I heard it last year and I agreed with it all," Chairman Triglione said. "But, I can not, in good conscience, recommend increasing it from $300,000 to $450,000 — that's a 50% increase. Yes, the roads need a lot of work, but they are not deplorable."

In the end, the five selectmen concurred on recommending a capital paving amount of $375,000, or an increase of $75,000 from what the town manager had recommended.

Capital Expenditure — Fire Department Reserve of Truck Chassis — The selectmen unanimously concurred to go along with the BAC's recommendation to delete $50,000 from the FY 2013 Capital Expenditures budget for the fire truck chassis.

BRAG — The selectmen also agreed with the BAC'S recommendation that any additional dollars allocated to BRAG, over and above the amount that may be received from the Moose Pond Trust Fund, should be a warrant article to go before voters of the town. The board of selectmen encourages groups or organizations that may want to have a portion of $47,247 from Moose Pond Trust Fund monies allocated to them to bring forth a proposal as soon as possible.

The selectmen also agreed to wait until their meeting on April 24, when they have the final figures in hand, to decide what amount, if any, they will recommend should be taken from Undesignated Funds, or Surplus, to reduce the impact of property taxes. It was noted that each $10,000 raised represents one cent on the town's property tax rate.

The board members also briefly discussed when the town should begin setting aside funds for a town-wide revaluation. The town manager said the town is currently at 105%, or 5% over the state's recommended amount of 100% of market value.

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