Topsham voters to decide budget increase

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TOPSHAM — Town meeting voters next month could decide on a $12.2 million municipal budget for fiscal year 2019 – up 3.19 percent from current spending.

The Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee support all the budget lines, which comprise the first several articles on the May 16 town meeting warrant.

Taking into account assessments from School Administrative District 75 of $10.3 million, up 6.6 percent, and Sagadahoc County of $1.7 million, up 0.8 percent, Topsham’s total appropriation adds up to $24.2 million. With $4.7 million in municipal revenues subtracted, the town’s tax levy would be $19.5 million, a 6.9 percent hike.

That amount, divided by Topsham’s $1 billion total land value, produces a tax rate of $19.26 per $1,000 of property valuation, an increase of $1.14, or 6.27 percent. A $200,000 home would see a $228 tax hike.

Town Manager Rich Roedner said he has been informed by SAD 75 officials that the assessment from the district is now up just 6 percent, meaning a reduction of about $60,000. Since he has yet to receive anything formal from the district, he is still projecting a 6.6 percent hike.

Next year’s budget proposes several new positions. The nearly $346,000 administration line item – up nearly 59 percent, or $128,000 – includes about $112,000 for a new assistant town manager, which covers benefits.

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Topsham eliminated its assistant manager position around 2011, and since then duties such as human resources have been shared by other staff. If approved by voters next month, the new assistant would also serve as a backup for the finance director.

“It was these areas that we’ve identified over the last several years as needs that we’ve been addressing by adding hats to different people,” Roedner said recently.

The $1.8 million police line item is proposed to rise 11.22 percent, or about $182,000. Of that hike, about $130,000 would cover two new officers, including benefits, and raise the roster to 16.

The two new officers would cut down on overtime costs, and also expand law enforcement presence throughout town around the clock, addressing issues like traffic safety, Roedner said.

“Going back several years, we hear regularly that we have people who speed through neighborhoods, they don’t stop, a lot of traffic concerns,” he said.

The fire and rescue service line item is proposed to grow 19 percent, or by nearly $161,000, to reach $1 million. About $110,000 to $115,000 of the hike would include two new full-time firefighters. Since one would start this September and the other next January, the two positions represent 1.25 new employees in fiscal year 2019.

The budget increase also includes funds to pay per-diem firefighter/paramedics $20 per hour instead of the current $17, making Topsham more competitive in attracting such employees. The net increase is only about $8,000, since per-diem hours would drop with the two new full-time firefighters.

“We’ve seen some people leave to go to other towns because of the pay, so we’re trying to adjust ours to improve our competitiveness on a pay scale for per diems,” Roedner said.

Detailed budget information can be viewed at topshammaine.com.

The May 16 town meeting ist at 7 p.m. at Mt. Ararat High School Commons, 73 Eagles Way.

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