Naples tax rate could drop

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — It is often said that Naples has some scenic views — sights that are worth taking a picture.

The Town of Naples has a pretty financial picture, too.

The Naples budget has an anticipated 5 percent increase of non-property-tax revenue, ample reserves — including more than $2.1 million in the surplus fund, and only a 2.5 percent rise in the proposed budget.

In fact, according to Naples Budget Committee Chairman Jim Turpin who referred to the recent auditor’s report when providing the information, the Town of Naples typically underestimates its revenue and underspends in many areas.

According to Naples Town Manager Ephrem Paraschak, the tax rate could be decreased by 5 to 10 cents.

After hearing that, resident Jim Grattelo, who owns businesses in Portland, said it would be better fiscal management to pay off debts rather than lowering the mil rate.

On Monday, the Naples Board of Selectmen and the Budget Committee held a workshop to review details of the proposed $3,268,026 budget for fiscal year 2016–17. The budget workshop lasted about 2½ hours.

Toward the end of the meeting, two trains of thought emerged: Lowering the mil rate or paying off old debt and buying a new ambulance rather than taking out a loan for that public safety vehicle. It seems the latter concept is what will be pursued.

The current tax rate is $13.50, a tax rate about which Naples can boast — something which Town Assessor Paul Binette mentioned during a meeting in March.

“This budget as proposed would decrease the mil rate by 5 or 10 cents,” Paraschak said on Monday.

The proposed budget, which workshop participants were looking at, showed how much has been spent of this year’s budget since the first week of April. So, essentially, there is less than three months until the end of the current fiscal year.

Several times, budget committee member Kent Uicker said the amount spent to date indicated that more money than needed had been budgeted. Grattelo said he agreed with Uicker.

“The fact of the matter is that by year end, you are going to have $400,000 that is unspent,” Grattelo said. “You have got a ton of money at the end of year that was budgeted for last year,” he said.

Paraschak said that usually department heads hold off on expenditures until the end of the fiscal year, just in case something unexpected happens. Also, the town keeps reserve funds in place, and sets aside money for capital projects for several years before making the actual expenditure, Paraschak said.

Grattelo continued speaking.

“I am not suggesting that you reduce taxes. We had a great year. We didn’t spend money (that was budgeted). Let us take that money and pay down our debt,” Grattelo said. “That is like creating a rainy day fund, except in reverse,” he said. “We might want to pay for the ambulance,” he continued. “The surplus is where it needs to be for a town this size. Let’s do something smart with the money,” Grattelo said.

Paraschak spoke on the likelihood of retiring some debt earlier. Unfortunately, the $750,000 bond for Kent’s Landing cannot be paid off early, he said. “We checked with the bank, but that loan cannot be paid off early,” he said, adding he would check into the status of other long-term debts.

“We had a good year,” he said. “I don’t think the town has to worry about the surplus growing too much,” Paraschak said.

Board Chairman Bob Caron II said, “Whatever the surplus is, buy the ambulance.”

Paraschak said he would advocate for taking it out of surplus. Chairman Caron said that about 70 days after the fiscal year ends, the town would be certain about the amount of the surplus, and it could be carried forward for the ambulance purchase.

As far as anticipated revenues, the increase from last year is more than $75,000. The total revenue estimates are $1,637,845. That is likely to be an even rosier picture than it is on paper. Paraschak admitted that, like his predecessor Derek Goodine, he kept his revenue forecasts modest. “My projections are low,” he said.

Turpin said, “The auditor’s report showed that the revenue was unde projected” and there was a surplus in many areas of the budget at the end of the year. “It’s about $900,000 extra,” Turpin said.

One area where the town could save money is the insurance that covers buildings and other objects of value such as the railing on the Causeway. The property insurance for the Naples Town Beach exceeded what was budgeted; and the proposed amount is double from last year. According to Paraschak, it might be advantageous for the town to put its insurance policy out to bid.

However, “health insurance is going down. We have a high deductible. If an employee triggers that, the town pays it. It saves money in the long run,” he said. Later, he clarified that the deductible is $8,000 for an employee and their family. Also, the current insurer based the cost on the age of employees; so, the total cost decreased because “there are young people” working for the town, Paraschak said.

Meanwhile, the Recreation Department, which has a 13 percent increase in its budget, typically brings in enough revenue to pay for the cost of its programs, Paraschak said.

A day after the workshop, Budget Committee member Dan Craffey said he was pleased with this year’s budget. “The town is in good shape in regards to reserves. The town will be able to keep the mil rate the same. The ambulance could be paid for in full instead of” paying off a loan for three years, Craffey said.

“We should eliminate as much debt as possible,” he said. “We’ve got this TIF money, $500,000 that can be used to promote business. It is important to keep businesses in Naples going strong,” he said. “We are a new Budget Committee. We have a good grasp of it now,” Craffey said.

According to the town’s website, seven people serve on the Budget Committee. Everyone on the committee attended the budget workshop except for Rick Paraschak, whose committee term expires in 2018.

To see the workshop in its entirety, view the webcast on the Lake Region Television website.

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