LEWISTON — A new budget season has officially begun, but the issues driving its creation look pretty similar. 

During a City Council workshop Tuesday, councilors were given the initial outlook for fiscal 2017-18, which shows an overall budget increase of about 6 percent. The council was told the figures are only a starting point.

City Administrator Ed Barrett presented the proposed budget to the council, and laid out factors that are still in flux, particularly state budget decisions like municipal revenue sharing and state aid to education that could have big implications on local budgets. 

The starting point for budget deliberations has the proposed municipal budget at $45.2 million for next year, an increase of $1.4 million from this year. 

The School Department, showing a proposal of $74.2 million for fiscal 2017-18, has a $5.4 million increase from this year. However, the increases are offset by a $6.2 million increase in aid from the state. 

Combined, the total proposed budget of $119.4 million is an increase of $6.8 million, or 6.1 percent. 

In Lewiston, department-by-department budget workshops start Thursday. Barrett said that like the past few years, Lewiston will most likely be passing a budget before the state does. That means the city may be looking at its budget again once the state budget is approved. 

On the city side, revenues have remained stagnant, Barrett said. He said while there was a slight uptick this year, they remain flat in next year’s budget. City revenue is still 16 percent lower than it was in 2008.

“This is largely the result of dramatic reductions in state revenue-sharing,” he said.

The revenue-sharing program is designed to redistribute a portion of sales and income tax to municipalities, but has been a point of contention at the state level for the past few years. 

Barrett said that by statute, the state should distribute 5 percent of the tax money to cities and towns, but has only been distributing 2 percent. He said that represents an annual $4.2 million loss for Lewiston. 

“I think we can see the tremendous impact that makes,” he said. 

Councilor Michael Lachance said Tuesday that state legislators, especially the Lewiston delegation, need to press in Augusta for that to change. 

“This is on them,” he said about the Legislature. 

Councilor Jim Lysen said it is “incumbent upon taxpayers to let the Legislature know they need to advocate for some of these changes.”

“No one believes the Legislature will come up with that 3 percent,” Barrett added.

In his memo to the council, Barrett said that while the proposed spending plan “could be adopted as presented, it should more appropriately be seen as a starting point for review and deliberation and as a vehicle for the presentation and discussion of numerous issues.” 

If approved as presented, the budget would represent an increase of 66 cents to the property tax rate. For a home assessed at $150,000, that would be an increase of $90. 

Barrett said next year’s municipal budget marks the first spending increase since 2010. The major contributing factors include personnel and benefit costs, and debt service, among others. Employee fringe benefits are expected to rise by $748,000. 

Based on initial budget submissions, Barrett said, city departments requested an additional $3.8 million for next year, but those requests were reduced by $2.3 million. 

He said the proposal does not include any personnel reductions, “recognizing the significant cuts that have been made in recent years and the increasing difficulty we face in meeting the service demands and expectations of the Council and the community.” 

In fact, the budget reflects 10 new positions. 

At the School Department, the increase in state aid to education comes at an opportune time, given hefty spending increases that are attributed to huge growth in enrollment. Barrett said just this school year alone, 250 more students have enrolled, and 18 new positions were added.

Heather Hunter, the city’s finance director, said the proposed budget is already available to view on the city’s website, under the Finance Department.

The Lewiston Capital Improvement Program, which initially called for $17 million in bond spending, has been lowered to roughly $6.5 million due to delaying a major Lincoln Street parking garage project associated with the Bates Mill No. 5 redevelopment.

Barrett said the LCIP plan also calls for increased spending on streets, sidewalks, and intersection improvements.

The county tax also represents a 6.2 percent increase, which adds 7 cents to the tax rate.

“This is a big jump from what we’ve seen recently,” Barrett said. 

The sewer utility will also see a sharp jump in costs. 

For the City Council, any budget spending that reflects an increase of more than 1.57 percent requires a two-thirds majority for approval. Budget workshops will take place throughout the rest of March and April. The final public hearing on the budget will be held May 2. 

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The Lewiston property tax rate outlook based on current budget proposals for fiscal 2017-18:

Proposed Tax Rate FY17 FY18 $ Change % Change
City 15.95 16.55 0.60 3.78%
School 10.30 10.29 (0.01) -0.09%
County 1.29 1.36 0.07 5.72%
Total tax rate 27.54 28.20 0.66 2.39%

Source: City of Lewiston 

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