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News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, February 20, 2014
Penobscot Town Meeting
Town budget sees low increase, school budget up 6.3 percent

by Anne Berleant

On March 4, voters will be asked to approve warrant articles totaling $2,185,736 to fund the 2014 municipal and 2014-15 school budgets. School articles will be heard first, beginning at 7 p.m.

The proposed municipal budget is $502,320; the proposed school budget is $1,683,416. Of the total amount, $1,861,257 will be raised through taxation.

Articles to authorize selectmen to sell the old fire house and to amend the shellfish ordinance to include an alternate position are also on the municipal warrant.

Copies of the 2013 Town Report are available from the town clerk.

Municipal budget increase is under 3 percent

The $502,320 proposed municipal budget is up $14,069 or 2.8 percent from last year. Surplus will fund $55,000 and expected excise revenue will fund $183,000 of that amount. Taxation will fund the remaining $264,320.

“The one ringer in all of this is revenue sharing,” said selectmen Paul Bowen by telephone. “We’re looking at $20,000 less this year than in 2013.” Last year the town received $35,213 from the state.

Helping keep the budget flat are no raises in municipal salaries and nothing added for legal fees.

“None of us saw that we had to repeat [raising salaries] this year, which is one of the things that drives the budget,” Bowen said. Also, he said the town anticipates no legal fees for issues surrounding the Penobscot Nursing Home; last year, the budget included $10,000 for professional legal services.

Appropriations from excise tax are targeted for the fire department ($30,000), snow removal, sand and equipment ($105,000), town audits, reports and appraisals ($18,000) and the town road maintenance account ($20,000).

In addition, the finance committee recommends using excise tax to add $10,000 to the road capital improvement program, above the $46,802 from the state under the Urban Rural Initiative Program. The current balance of that account is $27,454.

“It costs about $50,000 to pave a half mile of road,” Bowen said. “We have several roads waiting for that money. Wardwell Point Road, Dogtown Road and Back Ridge are due, [are] overdue.”

Surplus monies will fund $25,000 proposed for the fire truck reserve account, which currently holds $50,000. General administration ($12,500), current and contingent expenses ($6,000), general assistance ($3,000), street lighting ($3,500), the town road equipment fund ($2,000) and planning board and code enforcement officer expenses ($4,000) will also come from surplus.

The finance committee recommends all these municipal funding articles.

Requests from local nonprofits remain similar to last year, with Peninsula Ambulance Corps asking for $15,700, the Blue Hill Society for Aid to Children (Nichols Day Camps) $2,000, Washington-Hancock Community Agency $1,733, Eastern Area Agency on Aging $1,200 and Penobscot Historical Society $1,000. The finance committee recommends voting in favor of these requests.

The Blue Hill Public Library again is asking for $3,600; the finance committee recommends $1,000, the amount voters approved last year.

School budget up 6.3 percent

The proposed $1,683,416 budget to fund elementary and secondary education represents a $100,632 or 6.3 percent increase from this year.

Anticipated revenues are $25,000 from state allocation, a $14,668 carryover from 2012-13, and state and local entitlement funding of school breakfast and lunch program totaling $86,479.

Two-thirds of the increase is beyond local control. A $33,492 or 7.15-percent increase in high school tuition, increased teacher health insurance costs of 10 percent or $8,057, contracted teacher raises of $22,403, a state-mandated increase in teacher retirement contribution of $9,437, special education increases of 8.8 percent or $10,715, and new legislation requiring retirement contribution of $6,051 to private high school teacher retirement (George Stevens Academy) account for $90,155 of the budget hike.

The transportation line is up $7,487 to cover anticipated repairs of an aging school bus (up $5,000 to $15,000 total) and rising fuel costs (up $2,000 to $16,000 total).

The finance committee recommends not funding a second day of technology services (Student and Staff Support Services, article S6) or a summer literacy program (Other Instruction, article S10), which would reduce the school committee’s approved budget by $8,335.

The school committee recommends funding two reserve accounts, which lie outside the budget. The first is $15,000 for the school bus reserve account, which would leave $30,000 towards the purchase of a new bus in 2015-16. The second is $3,000 for building repairs for a total of $10,000 in the account.

Town Meeting

Elections: March 3, 8 a.m.-7 p.m., school.

Warrant articles: March 4, 7 p.m., school.