$4.8 million budget proposed

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BETHEL — Selectmen and the Budget Committee will convene an informational meeting on their proposed $4.8 million budget at 7 p.m. Monday, April 19 in the Crescent Park School gym.

Town Manager Jim Doar said Friday that the bulk of the budget is being driven by a still tentative SAD 44 assessment of $2,546,770, which is up $250,000 over last year, and an increase over last year of $10,500 in the county assessment of $293,644.

If the school assessment figure stands come town meeting in June, Doar said the amount to be raised by property tax will be $4,827,265.

The proposed municipal budget came in at $3,317,138, which is about 1 percent more than last year’s $3,246,820.

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Doar said the $3.3 million municipal budget is offset by $1,330,287 in non-property tax revenue, for a net municipal expenditure of $1,986,851

Reasons for the municipal budget increase are a 1½ percent raise for town employees, a 7 percent raise for both the town clerk and finance director, and an increase in police wages and benefits.

“Everything else held the line,” Doar said.

With the school assessment increase, he said he expects taxes will rise half a mill or $210,000. One mill raises about $420,000 in Bethel.

“If the town decides to keep the Police Department, then we’re looking at an increase of 7/10ths of a mill,” Doar said.

At last week’s budget meeting, both selectmen and the committee voted to recommend that Bethel disband the Police Department and go with dedicated law-enforcement coverage by the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office at a cost of $250,000.

“If we stick with the county for coverage, I see at least the municipal portion of the budget going down,” Doar said.

That’s what will drive most of the discussion on Monday night, he said, because if town meeting voters decide to keep the police station, he has proposed to increase the four-person squad to six full-time, academy-trained officers and forgo using reserve officers.

That’s why he has also proposed a police department budget of $328,657, up 30.5 percent or $76,791 over last year’s approved budget of $251,866.

“In the current budget, we budgeted for four full-time officers and 8 reserve officers,” Doar said. “In the upcoming budget, what I’m proposing is going with six full-time officers and no reserves.”

In a typical year, he’d like to have four full-time officers and 8 reserves, but there’s too much turnover from officers leaving to seek better paying police jobs with better benefits.

“We currently have one full-time and five reserves, but that’s current staffing and it’s unsustainable at this service level,” Doar said. “To compare what’s being proposed accurately, we budget for four full-time and 8 reserves under the current system.”

On the 7 percent hike in wages for the town clerk and finance director, Doar said it would raise their wages on level with that of other department heads.

“We’re trying to get parity,” Doar said. “The selectmen were pretty gracious and decided to give them 7 percent, but that’s only $5,000 in total costs.”

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

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