LEWISTON — A $413,979 drop in debt payments next year and better non-property tax revenues will cushion a proposed 2.67 percent spending increase, City Administrator Ed Barrett told city councilors Tuesday night.

“Looking forward a little bit, there is some good news in this budget,” Barrett said.

The proposed budget of $44.4 million for fiscal year 2016-17 is a $1 million more than this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Barrett presented his budget to councilors at a special meeting in City Hall. It calls for a 2.3 percent spending increase for city services, coupled with a 7.8 percent increase in school spending.

Overall, the budget would add 73 cents to the city’s property tax rate — about $109.50 on a home valued at $150,000.

However, with a state-approved expansion of the Homestead property tax exemption figured in, property taxes will go down for qualifying homes valued at less than $180,000. A $150,000 home’s taxes will go down $25, if the owners qualify for the Homestead exemption.

“The Homestead increase will certainly be helpful to the individuals that qualify for it,” Barrett said. “Overall, we have a modest expenditure and tax rate increase on the city side. The big unknown at this point is the uncertainty looking forward at the school side.”

City revenues that don’t come from property taxes are budgeted to increase $356,394, he said. That includes:

• $69,000 more in auto excise tax payments;

• $72,475 more in state General Assistance payments;

• $76,612 more in state sales tax revenue sharing; 

• $95,500 more in parking fees and permits; and

• $42,807 in other non-property-tax revenues.  

“And that’s a good thing because it probably represents more people living or working in our downtown area,” Barrett said.

Councilors begin their budget work in earnest at 6 p.m. Thursday with the first of several meetings devoted to page-by-page reviews. It will be held in the City Council Chamber of City Hall and be devoted to fringe benefits and capital outlay spending. Councilors are also scheduled to have two executive sessions to discuss labor contract negotiations.

Finance Director Heather Hunter said a PDF version of the full budget should be available on the finance department section of the city’s website, www.lewistonmaine.gov, by Wednesday morning.

Printed copies will also be available at the Lewiston Public Library and at the city clerk’s office.

Paying off debt is working, Barrett said. The city has been paying off its debt more aggressively since 2005. That included the decision to pay off the $3.5 million debt for the Colisee in 2015. That decision alone saves the city $1.05 million next year.

Barrett said his plan calls for using $1.2 million from the fund balance to lower the tax rate this year, leaving more than $11 million.

The School Department’s proposed 7.8 percent increase in spending is largely driven by higher student enrollment, Barrett said. That budget calls for:

• $2.7 million in new or unfunded positions;

• $467,000 for summer school costs; and

• $502,000 for transportation.

Barrett said his budget adds a new code enforcement position and a new fire inspector.

Staff had requested funding for an assistant city clerk, a Planning Department position, a solid waste position and temporary positions in Public Works. Those positions were not funded in Barrett’s budget

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