PARIS — Selectman Ted Kurtz said Monday that it would be advisable for the town to flat fund or decrease its budget this year, reiterating concerns he raised before the Budget Committee last week.
Kurtz was the sole selectman on the board who voted against accepting a $3,339,903 municipal budget approved by the Budget Committee. The committee accepted the recommendations of Town Manager Philip Tarr, who trimmed the budget from department requests originally totaling $3,409,365. The budget is about $87,000 higher than the one approved at last year’s annual town meeting.
At a public hearing of the Budget Committee on Thursday, Kurtz said he was concerned with the ability of the town’s taxpayers to absorb continued increases in the municipal budget. He said the budget has increased 55 percent in the past 10 years, a figure he brought up again at Monday’s meeting.
Kurtz said that the 2.6 percent increase from last year’s budget is “not unreasonable,” but that he was worried about the sustainability of such changes. He said that while Maine’s employment went up 19 percent from 1990 to 2002, it decreased 6 percent from 2003 to 2008, against a national trend of increasing employment. He said he does not feel that significant employment will return to the area, and that matters will be further exacerbated by inflation.
“If there is ever a time when the town of Paris should flat-line the budget or decrease the budget, 2010 is the year,” Kurtz said.
The budget increases are due mainly to increases in salaries and benefit costs, although the administrative budget’s wages have decreased due to the merging of the tax assessor and code enforcement officer positions. Other increases include the filling of a vacant full-time police officer’s position, $50,000 to begin a fund to save for a revaluation, and an increase in general assistance costs.
Chairman Raymond Glover said about $35,000 of the increase was a false figure, because it represented the tax increment financing amount being repaid to the town by KBS Building Systems for the extension of a sewer system to the plant.
“That’s not considered part of the budget, but for accounting purposes that was put into this year’s budget,” Glover said.
Glover said he was concerned that a decrease in the road budget and the increase in asphalt prices could affect the ability of the town to repair streets. However, he said he supported the work of the Budget Committee and town manager and could support their recommendation.
The other two selectmen also said they would support the budget, but expressed concerns about the ability of the town to meet the tax requirements in the future. Jean Smart said that the budget increases have been low, but this has also led to the increased need for infrastructure repairs.
“Another reality we’re going to have to face is those things are going to have to be taken care of sometime,” she said.
Lloyd “Skip” Herrick said the aging population of the state also presents a difficulty for the tax base. He agreed that the budget increases need to be slowed, and said the town might have to implement wage freezes or furlough days for municipal employees.
“I think the next three to five years are certainly going to be tougher than this year,” he said.