Budget season begins in Lewiston

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LEWISTON — It’s that time of year again: budget season.

And over the next two months of discussions, city officials will be grappling with familiar issues, including a growing school department and much-needed infrastructure improvements. 

City Administrator Ed Barrett will present the initial 2018-19 spending plan to the City Council on Tuesday, March 20. While the municipal figures have yet to be released, the mayor and city councilors have already taken issue with the proposed school budget. 

As Barrett and city finance staff were finalizing the city numbers this week, Barrett said a major theme will be capital items included in the Capital Improvement Plan. 

That five-year plan, which was recently vetted by city officials, calls for millions of dollars in spending, including on high-profile projects such as new Fire Department substations. 

The new Capital Improvement Plan called for $23 million in projects for fiscal 2018-19, but officials had already put a dent in that number by advocating against funding the Lincoln Street parking garage expansion and other projects. But the City Council will have to decide whether to fund the proposed $3.3 million to replace the Sabattus Street substation. 

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The initial plan was to replace one substation per year over the next three years. 

“One of the themes this year is likely to be capital items,” Barrett said in an email. “As you saw from the Lewiston Capital Improvement Plan, requested amounts far exceed our bond limitation ordinance and this will undoubtedly lead to a lot of discussion of projects and priorities.” 

Other projects slated for next year include a $975,000 fire engine replacement, a $1 million combined sewer overflow project at the Franklin Pasture property, $2.7 million in street maintenance, and $1.3 million in municipal vehicles and equipment.

While making its annual recommendation on the Capital Improvement Plan, members of the Finance Committee and Planning Board said last month that the proposal would add too much new debt. 

This week, Barrett said he was also working to finalize the budget message, which will be forwarded to elected officials next week.  

The city released its budget schedule, which takes the City Council through May. By city charter, the latest a budget can be approved is May 30. The first public hearing on the budget is scheduled for April 3. 

Heading into the first budget presentation, Mayor Shane Bouchard said this week that he’s not sure “what the final verdict on the city side is going to be” but that the proposed increase so far for the school budget is “unacceptable.” 

Last week, the School Department unveiled an $83.1 million budget proposal for next year. It calls for 38 new positions, including more than 30 teachers, along with educational technicians, teacher coaches and social workers.

The budget is nearly 12 percent higher than this year’s $74.3 million, and would represent a 6.1 percent increase to local property taxes.

Most of the budget increase would be covered by a 17.4 percent increase in state education subsidy. But to get that state money, local spending for education has to increase. 

Due to the state’s funding formula and required local share, if Lewiston taxpayers don’t spend an additional 6.1 percent for schools, the city will lose state funding at a rate of $3 for every $1 locally not spent.

Barrett said he expects that the school budget “will also lead to a lot of discussion, particularly around the required local share which will result in the need to increase the property tax for schools. The Legislature made some changes in the (Essential Programs and Services) formula that increased this requirement, and I’m sure the council will want to fully understand what’s changed and the School Committee’s spending plans.”

The Essential Programs and Services are defined by the Maine Department of Education “as the programs and resources that are essential for students to have an equitable opportunity to achieve Maine’s Learning Results.” 

During last week’s City Council meeting, councilors said they believed the school budget could be pared down. A budget workshop between the council and School Committee is scheduled for March 26. 

A day after the school budget was announced, Ward 2 Councilor Zack Pettengill said, “I believe we need to support our students, however a 6.1 percent increase from just the School Department cannot be passed on to our taxpayers. We need to find ways to reduce spending and make a fair budget for all parties.” 

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The fiscal 2018-19 budget schedule in Lewiston: 

Date

Event
March 20 Budget presented to City Council
March 22 Budget workshop: Personnel services, fringe, capital outlay, parking, general government property & Public Works
March 26 Joint budget workshop with School Committee
March 27 Budget workshop: Recreation, recreation activity fund & utilities
March 29 Budget workshop: Police, drug forfeitures fund, Fire, Social Services, TIF & CDBG
April 3 Budget workshop and first public hearing: General government (except economic development, parking & buildings), & protective inspection 
April 10 Budget workshop: Municipal revenues, library, debt, intergovernmental & general giscussions
April 12 Budget workshop: Review of nonprofit requests, miscellaneous & general discussions
April 17 Budget workshop: Presentation of school budget to City Council & general discussions
April 19 Budget workshop: General discussion
April 24 Budget workshop: General discussion 
April 26 Budget workshop: General discussion 
May 1 Final budget public hearing: Adopt city, school & CDBG budgets
May 8 School budget referendum
May 15 Public hearing and approval of LCIP funding
May 30 Final date allowed to adopt budget by charter

Source: City of Lewiston 

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