SABATTUS — The early word on the new proposed municipal budget is that it won’t raise tax rates for most homeowners, but a lot still depends on the school budget before that’s clear, Town Manager Tony Ward said Friday.

Included in his proposed $3.17 million municipal operational, excise and capital budget for 2018:

• Converting one full-time front office position to two part-time positions. The front office has three full-time employees. Ward said it would result in more staff flexibility and save $14,000 in benefits.

• Make one seasonal public works position a full-time job at an additional cost of $24,000 with pay and benefits.

• Add 16-hour-a-week help to the Transfer Station during the busy summer months at $3,300.

• Raise $61,550 toward the first of five payments to demolish the Webster Mill.

• Raise $63,000 for a new loader with a plow package; another $125,000 from existing capital improvement funds would be used for the $188,000 purchase. Ward said a loader without a plow would be retired.

Voters will also be asked to approve two Fire Department expenses that can be covered by banked capital funds: $75,000 to install systems to channel out firetruck exhaust in the Main Street and Crowley Road stations and $35,000 for a new battery-operated Jaws of Life extrication tool. 

The proposed Police Department budget is up just $178. This week, selectmen approved a new collective bargaining agreement between the town and the New England Police Benevolent Association Local 607. The new contract runs through December 2018 and gives officers 1.5 percent raises every six months starting in January 2017.

The contract also changes retirement terms: patrol officers can now retire after 25 years of service, regardless of age — it had been age 62 or older — and will receive two-thirds of their salary instead of half.

Ward said the raises will cost the town $1,639 this year and the retirement changes $10,000, but both were covered by insurance savings.

The new union contract also includes a clause about officers who attend the police academy and stay with the department less than three years. They must pay the town back for that cost on a sliding scale, something that’s been an issue, Ward said.

Not included in Ward’s proposed budget is a request by the Fire Department to switch from paying one person a per-diem rate to man the fire station three days a week to paying two people a per-diem rate five days a week, Monday to Friday.

Coverage can be thin during the daytime when a lot of volunteers work out of town, Ward said.

That would cost $43,555. Budget Committee members and selectmen will determine whether to add that into the final budget proposal.

In all, Ward’s proposed budget is $127,558 more than the current year’s. Anticipated increased revenue from the Homestead Exemption and excise taxes help offset that increase.

“We are very lean,” he said. “When we go through the budget process, it’s truly what we need,” and department heads have been great about working with that. 

The town’s tax rate is $18.75.

As it stands, before details emerge about Regional School Unit 4 expenses, most homeowners in town would not see a tax increase from the proposed budget, Ward said. The exception to that includes people with homes valued over $425,000 and homeowners who haven’t filed for the Homestead Exemption.

Homeowners can still file for that exemption until April 1. Paperwork only needs to be filled out one time, and any homeowners who aren’t sure if they’ve filed can check with the town.

Ward said he’s hoping selectmen and the Budget Committee have the final numbers firmed up and the warrant set in early April.

Town meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. May 18.

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Sabattus Town Manager Tony Ward

Sabattus Town Manager Tony Ward

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