Sabattus budget would hold line on taxes, cut one employee

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SABATTUS — Town meeting voters will see a proposed municipal budget that buys more planning expertise, scales back town employees’ health care, cuts one position, aims to attract more volunteer firefighters and attempts to hold down property taxes.

Town Manager Rick Bates said the last thing wasn’t easy.

“Sabattus is not in a position where there’s a lot of meat on the bone,” Bates said. “Every community is facing it. We’ve been making the hard decisions for the last four, five years — there’s not a lot left.”

The 52-article warrant is available at the Town Office. Town meeting will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday, June 4, at Oak Hill Middle School.

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Bates said the Board of Selectmen has supported a municipal budget of $2.54 million, up $100,000 over last year. He’d been asked to keep the mill rate the same, $14.15 per $1,000 of property value.

Among the warrant proposals:

* An increase in the Planning Board budget from $3,812 this year to $28,611 next year, supported by both selectmen and the Budget Committee.

Bates said the money would pay for more time and expertise from the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments.

“No one on the Planning Board are engineers,” he said, yet they’re asked to deal with road construction and drainage standards and issues that “can carry a lot of legal problems.”

Some funds will be recouped in fees charged to projects in front of the board, Bates said.

Voters also will be asked to approve the town handing over site plan proposals for third-party review to groups such as AVCOG, then passing along that fee. It’s already done with subdivisions. That change would apply mainly to commercial properties, Code Enforcement Officer Steve LeBrun said.

* The Public Works budget would increase by $15,000 under the selectmen’s recommendation to raise $451,031, while losing one employee. The increase covers higher fuel, salt and sand costs, Bates said.

The department would cover the loss of the staffer by hiring part-time drivers to plow, among other things.

The Budget Committee supports a $434,136 Public Works budget.

* Both bodies support cutting the current insurance budget by $18,000 to $280,141.

“Currently, the town pays 100 percent for employee health insurance (premiums,) 50 percent for spouse and family,” Bates said. “That is not the norm anymore; it used to be.”

Options are open on whether the town would scale back coverage, switch to a higher-deductible plan, or both.

Sabattus currently has 17 full-time positions. Only 14 people opt for the health insurance.

* The Budget Committee and selectmen are $21,000 apart on the Police Department budget, with selectmen supporting the higher amount of $381,347.

The $21,000 could mean a reduction in services or coverage, or maybe skipping a midnight shift, Bates said.

While the town is considering consolidating its police services with Lisbon, that would likely affect the 2013 budget, not this one, and would go before voters first, Bates said.

“We’ll get a sense at town meeting whether people think it’s something worth looking at — I’m sure they’ll voice their opinion,” he said.

* The Fire Department is seeking an $8,000 increase to its budget to $124,438 for next year, supported by both selectmen and the Budget Committee.

If the volunteer ranks grow, the chief didn’t want to split the same amount of money among more people, Bates said.

Fire Chief Don Therrien said he has 35 volunteer firefighters; ideal would be 45. Each new person has to be outfitted and trained. “There’s a cost factor to that,” he said.

The proposed budget includes decreases in animal control, retirement plans and General Assistance.

Selectmen and the Budget Committee were split, with the latter opposed, on whether to accept Lorelei Drive in the Ball Park Subdivision as a new town road.

Last year, about 80 of the town’s 3,744 registered voters turned out at town meeting, according to the town clerk.

kskelton@sunjournal.com

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