Bridgton selectmen put finishing touches on budget

By Lisa Williams Ackley

Staff Writer

The Bridgton Board of Selectmen spent Tuesday night putting the finishing touches on the proposed budget that will go before voters at the annual town meeting in mid-June.

Closed warrant

They also decided April 24, by a 4-1 vote, to have a closed warrant at the June 13 annual town meeting — meaning voters may accept or reduce budget requests, but they cannot increase any budget item. Selectman Paul Hoyt cast the dissenting vote, saying he believes voters should be able to make adjustments — up or down — to the proposed budget.

Bridgton Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz said in his memo to the board, prior to the beginning of Tuesday night's meeting, that if he had captured all of the key points the selectmen made at their prior budget workshop on April 17, "then the impact of your changes would increase the town side of the budget by $2,403, bringing the amount to be raised by taxes for the town side (not including assessments from the school district or county) to $4,046,120 with an estimated tax rate of $4.09 (again, municipal side only). This is before all other exemptions, adjustments and surplus discussions though I have used $25,000 of surplus to help reduce taxes."

Berkowitz also addressed the status of the Undesignated Fund Balance, saying the town's auditor had determined that as of June 30, 2011 Bridgton's Surplus was $2,405,557 and was on target to generally accepted accounting principles. “My rough estimates are that we will need to increase that balance by about $300,000 to maintain the balance in the next fiscal year.  Further, I am estimating that we will end up with a net expenditure surplus after carry forwards of about $400,000 and a revenue surplus of about $25,000. Deducting the $300,000 leaves some $100,000 for your discretion, since I have already applied $25,000. If you were to use $50,000 for the revaluation reserve you would decrease the local side of the tax rate by $.05 to $4.04 which would be a 1% town side tax rate increase. This would be less than the impact to the total budget with the school's increase showing about 2.8% for Bridgton. Please note that the school increase I am using has been confirmed by School Administrative District 61."

The estimated tax rate on the total budget of $15,005,910 would be $13.11.

The town manager said that he is recommending "that only $50,000 of additional surplus be used and that should be used to establish the revaluation reserve leaving $50,000 more in surplus should it be needed in the FY 2014 budget development process." Following this approach, Berkowitz said, the board of selectmen "has minimized the impact of the town side of the tax rate, maintained a stable undesignated fund balance or surplus and established a funding plan to meet your future revaluation of the town so as not to spike the tax rate in the future while continuing programs, services and projects for the community."

A motion by outgoing Chairman Arthur Triglione Sr. to take $50,000 from the Undesignated Fund Balance, or Surplus, failed, with the other four selectmen opposing it.

Last week, at their over four-hours long budget workshop, the five selectmen made it clear they were trying to be fair but firm, by making reductions in some proposed budget items and asking others — like United Ambulance and the Greater Bridgton-Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce — to justify why cuts to their requests should not be made.

United Ambulance Service — Paul Fillebrown, operations manager for United Ambulance, explained why that organization would have to possibly reduce staff and/or services, if their request was reduced by $9,000 down to $45,000 as recommended by the Bridgton Budget Advisory Committee. Previously, the town and United had agreed to an annual reduction of $1,000 in the requested amount.

Fillebrown said the ambulance service's calls for service have gone down, so a lower subsidy from the town of Bridgton would require United to reduce staff or make other adjustments.

"We do everything we can to keep the subsidy (from Bridgton) down," Fillebrown said. Noting that surrounding towns pay a higher per capita rate than Bridgton, which has a per capita rate of $12.86, Fillebrown said United Ambulance had agreed to an $11,000 drop in subsidy from Bridgton last year, after they took on calls for service in parts of the town of Harrison.

"Our goal is to have zero subsidy," said Fillebrown said. He also pointed out that Medicare has reduced its level of reimbursement, while levels of service for certain transfers from hospitals to nursing homes have been downgraded. The town's summertime population has been less, Fillebrown said, and the local hospital has more surgeries performed here, so there are less ambulance runs to Lewiston or Portland. All of these things combined, said Fillebrown, bring the need to keep the subsidy where it is right now.

"Our calls numbered 99 last month, and a busy month for us is 170 calls," Fillebrown stated.

So, the five selectmen agreed to stay with the original plan of decreasing the United Ambulance Service subsidy by $1,000, not $9,000 as the BAC recommended.

Chamber of Commerce — Last week's budget workshop saw Selectman Doug Taft take the Greater Bridgton-Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce to task for not providing better promotional services for Bridgton. Since then, Taft and Chamber Executive Director Jim Mains had met and Taft said he appreciated Mains' explanations and assurances. Mains responded to Taft's comments from April 17. The Budget Advisory had recommended funding all outside agencies, like the Chamber, at last year's levels. Last week, the selectmen discussed reducing the request by $2,000. In the end, they voted to reduce the requested $7,000 by $1,000, down to $6,000.

Mains pointed out that of the 13 towns the Chamber serves, its total subsidies from those towns is $9,300 with $7,000 of that coming from Bridgton taxpayers. Bridgton businesses make up 51% of the Chamber's membership, he said. The selectmen encouraged Mains and the rest of the Chamber to try to encourage other Lake Region towns like Naples to appropriate more, if they want the services offered by the Chamber of Commerce.

Reading from a prepared statement April 24, Mains said, "As a Chamber made up of business people we understand the need to improve and move forward. We are open to criticism and welcome the opportunity to hear how others feel we can do better. The main criticism we have heard from you is our lack of promoting tourism. Our understanding is that the budget committee and Board of Selectmen are recommending a reduction in our request for this reason. Let me make it very clear, this is a mistake and it is the wrong approach to take in these economic times...Teamwork is the key here. And we have to ask these questions. Who is on our team? And what makes that team successful?" Team members, Mains said, include the Chamber along with all non-member Bridgton businesses, all residents of the town of Bridgton, the Bridgton Economic Development Corporation, the Bridgton Community Development Committee and all of town government, particularly Anne Krieg, the town's new director of planning, community and economic development.

Bridgton Community Center ­— The selectmen voted to approve $71,500 for the Community Center — or roughly half way between the originally proposed $67,500 current level of funding and the $75,000 recommended by the BAC. A new Memorandum of Understanding will be drawn up between the town and the BCC.

Chairman Triglione clarified that last week he did not say he wanted the Community Center to be on its own, but instead said he wanted the Community Center to own the building it uses that is currently owned by the town. It was a reporting error.

Moose Pond Trust Fund monies — Following a presentation by Blaine Chapman of the Bridgton Easy Riders Snowmobile Club on its purchase of a high-tech trail groomer, the selectmen voted to take $5,000 of the available Moose Pond Trust Fund monies for the maintenance of the newly-created Pondicherry Park. They then voted to split the remaining funds available — or $42,247 — between the Bridgton Recreation Advancement Group (BRAG) and the Bridgton Easy Riders Snowmobile Club. It was said at the meeting that state figures show snowmobiling brings in more revenue, overall, to the State of Maine than the skiing industry does.

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