MEXICO – Higher costs for fuel, sand and salt, and for SAD 43, the county and Med-Care Ambulance Service could whack Mexico taxpayers this year.

Voters at next month’s referendum face a proposed fiscal 2009 budget of $3,651,074, up 8.39 percent or $282,769 over this year’s $3,368,305.

“Some people will look at that and say that taxes are going up,” Selectman George Byam said Thursday of the selectmen’s recommended budget.

But because the town has a healthy surplus, some of that will likely be used to reduce the tax levy.

“We’re also going to raise the valuation by a percentage number and (the tax assessor) is going to start an in-house revaluation to bring all of the homes in line, so that will drop the rate,” Byam said.

According to the proposed budget, the largest increase is SAD 43’s assessment of $1,094,843, up $129,434. That’s followed by public works, which has a budget of $680,238, up $107,497 over this year’s $572,741.

“Salt went from $50 to over $84, and fuel is up at least $1 a gallon,” Byam said.

They won’t learn how much fuel will cost until after May 8 when SAD 43 – with whom they’ve partnered for fuel and oil – opens bid packages.

Ambulance service coverage through Med-Care will cost $57,190 this year, an increase of $19,616 over last year’s $37,573.

Town Manager John Madigan said the Med-Care hike is due to a $7 per capita increase from $12 to $19 to cover the cost of a new facility to be split between the 11 towns that own Med-Care.

“That $57,190 doesn’t even buy an ambulance. Med-Care has a net worth of over $900,000 and we own 1/11th of that, so our ownership is worth more than what we’re paying, plus the service,” Byam said. “Yes, that’s a big increase, but as they’ve proven in the past, they don’t owe a nickel. They’re a very solvent agency and they provide a very good service. Some people don’t like it because they can’t control it.”

Gasoline and heating oil cost increases caused a $15,526 jump in the public safety budget, which went from $760,615 to a proposed $776,141. Madigan said Wednesday that he added $1 a gallon into the budget for public safety and public works to try to stay ahead of rising prices.

“We consumed 35,000 gallons of fuel, so, with that $1, instantly that’s $35,000. The police budget has $6,000 in it just for gasoline. The way the prices are still going up, we’re behind already,” Madigan said.

Byam said the budget was as lean as possible.

“There was no fat to trim. About every penny is accounted for. John doesn’t pad anything. He believes in telling it like it is. That’s why we couldn’t go in and cut $100,000 from this department or that, because if we did, we would start cutting people and services,” Byam said.

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