Rumford board shares budget angst with department managers at workshop

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RUMFORD — Town officials Thursday night discussed their concerns about Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to eliminate state revenue shared with towns for the next two years.

During a budget workshop with department heads, some selectmen asked them to try to pare budgets by 10 percent, should the Legislature back LePage’s proposal.

“Let’s prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” board Chairman Greg Buccina said.

He said he doesn’t want to reduce the level of services residents voted last year to keep. However, should LePage’s proposal be approved, Buccina said the town would have little choice.

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Town Manager Carlo Puiia said Rumford stands to lose an estimated $1,914,321 in two years. To make it up while keeping the same level of services, he foresees a tax increase of 2 to 2.5 mills.

However, he said Rumford is better off than other Maine towns this fiscal year, because Rumford collects its revenue sharing first and uses it to offset taxes the following year.

“Most towns when they look at that revenue sharing, they look at that during the current year, so we have some sort of cushion that we are not going to be facing the immediate cut of revenue that other towns will face,” Puiia said.

“Nonetheless, if this proposal or part of this proposal is approved, it really puts the town at a disadvantage,” he said.

If the state stops revenue sharing, Rumford would lose $937,258 for July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014, and $972,081 for July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015, Puiia said.

“Again, I don’t want to be an alarmist, but in the same breath, I have to be very conscious of this type of curtailment even if it comes down to a certain percentage,” he said.

“It’s still a loss of revenue that we generally rely on to help keep the taxes low.”

Puiia said he advised bosses to prepare their budgets “for what you know you need to run that department as we know it.”

Selectman Jeff Sterling pointed out that residents last year overwhelmingly voted to keep the current level of services.

But unlike Sterling, Selectman Jolene Lovejoy said she believes LePage is serious about his proposal.

She said she didn’t want to panic, but asked department heads “to look long and hard at budgets. I’m not saying to strip your departments and I’m not saying to lay anybody off,” Lovejoy said.

Selectman Brad Adley agreed with Sterling, saying he doesn’t believe the Legislature will approve LePage’s proposal as written.

Still, he warned department heads he would not support going to taxpayers this year with a large budget increase.

Selectman Jeremy Volkernick said he thought many department heads did very well last year, presenting lean budgets where the only increase was in fuel costs.

Puiia suggested that department heads defer capital plan spending if possible. Then he said budgets may have to be cut by 10 percent or more if the proposed revenue sharing is eliminated for two years.

However, tax collector Tom Bourret said that trimming his budget by 10 percent would paralyze his office.

“That would take away what it takes to run the taxpayer’s office,” he said. “There’s nothing more I can do. I just want you to know, that’s where we’re at.”

Police Chief Stacy Carter said a 10 percent reduction in his department means cutting personnel.

He said it’s premature of selectmen to ask department heads to drastically pare budgets when the Legislature hasn’t OK’d LePage’s proposal.

“This is a different animal this year and this is why I think we need to do something different,” Lovejoy said. “Faced with a potential $900,000 shortfall, it behooves elected officials to make it easier on taxpayers so our tax burden won’t go up.”

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

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