Harrison proposed budget up 3.1%

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

HARRISON — Harrison Town Manager George “Bud” Finch is projecting a 3.1% increase in the upcoming budget, which would raise the mil rate from $10.95 to around $11.30 per $1,000 of valuation.

In his Jan. 23 weekly update, Finch said that even given the increase, municipal services are actually operating at less cost than they were in 2011, when he came to Harrison and instituted productivity improvements and cost avoidance measures to hold the line on taxes.

“We have worked diligently to improve services and not raise taxes on what we have control over,” Finch said as he worked with staff to prepare the budget. He characterized the 3.1% increase as “much higher than one would like to project,” but added that, “with 70% of our property tax dollars not under our control, going to education and county, it is difficult to project much less at this point without significant cuts in municipal operations.”

The total municipal budget for the 2016 fiscal year is estimated at $1,892,592, a $33,891 increase over the $1,858,701 budgeted for the 2015 fiscal year. Expenses stayed nearly the same for solid waste ($248,029-$248,585), insurance ($54,768-$55,888), public safety ($173,716-$173,984) and community services ($77,590-$78,090), but went up in the areas of administration ($495,813-$512,105), public works ($532,519-$537,183), fire department ($97,341-$102,571) and parks and recreation ($178,925-$184,185).

Total revenue is up 5.5%, from $634,917 last year to $670,050, leaving a net amount of $1,222,542 to be raised by taxes for municipal services. Added to that taxpayer obligation is around $4 million that Finch estimated will be Harrison’s share of the SAD 61 school budget, and $330,380 in county spending.

“There is great hope our best guess is too high, not too low,” he said of educational and county spending.

In addition, Finch has budgeted $200,000 to cover capital needs and reserve funds, and another $375,000 for roads. With another $100,000 budgeted for overlay, the total amount to be raised by property taxes is projected at $6,236,993. Finch’s calculation of the mil rate is based on the town’s property valuation of $552,635,243 for FY 2016, an amount that is up by $1,378,143 from the year before.

Finch defended the $25,000 increase in the roads account by saying that, based solely on need, the town actually ought to be spending $500,000 annually instead of the $375,000 budgeted. “We are attempting to catch up after years of being behind,” he said. The same applies to the $25,000 increase in the capital and reserve fund, an area that Finch said “typically communities fall further behind in, year after year, due to inflation and a desire to hold the line of taxes.”

It remains to be seen whether Selectmen or the Budget Committee will agree with Finch’s budget, which will be turned over soon for their review and presented to voters at the June Town Meeting. He said both bodies will be “working diligently” to provide the best level of services possible, but added that “without relief from the state, education and county, we will run out of opportunities to squeeze any more out of our limited part of your tax bill.”

 

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