KENNEBUNK, Maine — The town is proposing a budget for the coming fiscal year that would add about 5% to local property taxes.
Between operating expenses and debt service, the proposed budget comes in at roughly $15.3 million, about $9.9 million of which would need to be raised through taxation. That’s a tax increase of $484,747, or 5.17%, from Fiscal Year 2020.
The proposal calls for a projected mil rate that’s about 20 cents higher than the current rate of $13.75 per thousand of valuation, according to budget documents. This figure reflects only municipal accounting and does not include the county and school district’s impact on tax bills.
Town Manager Michael Pardue said the proposal was developed in a way that provides the level of service that local residents, businesses and visitors have “come to expect and enjoy” in a town that has been recognized for its safety and friendliness to businesses and people of all ages.
“Those recognitions result from the dedicated work of our employees, along with the many volunteers that serve this wonderful community, and the support of the voters,” Pardue said. “The budget being presented to the public allows for the resources needed to provide the service required to continue to be a great place to live, work, play and visit.”
Following a public hearing on the budget Tuesday, one resident told the Kennebunk Select Board that the proposed 5% hike in property taxes is too much at a time when people are experiencing economic hardships as a result of the current coronavirus pandemic.
“At the end of the day, that’s 5% on top of all the people that are unemployed now,” resident Lionel Menard told the selectpersons. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
Menard noted that the select board and the town’s budget board crafted the budget earlier this year, before the COVID-19 virus began to spread throughout the United States and disrupt the economy. He asked the board to revisit the budget with current circumstances in mind. Specifically, Menard asked for a hiring freeze and for a reduction in capital expenses.
Select Board Chair Blake Baldwin said he understood Menard’s concerns but said both boards would have a difficult time meeting due to the town’s social-distancing guidelines that are currently in place. Baldwin also said that the budget represents the most that the town is able to spend.
“What I understand from both the town manager and the finance director is that we are putting a lot of expenditures on hold right now,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin added that large expenditures have been paused, and that every department head must run expenses beyond the usual ones past either Pardue or Finance Director Joel Downs.
“We basically already have undertaken a type of freeze that I would expect to continue, not only through this budget but on to the next one, as well,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin called Menard’s idea a “good one,” but not one that could be acted upon in a timely manner before the budget goes before voters during the annual town meeting on June 9.
“I can assure you that the select board, as well as the town staff, will not spend any money beyond what is absolutely necessary,” Baldwin told Menard.
Menard said he would encourage others not to vote for the budget — a decision that would result in the town having to operate according to the figures of the current fiscal year.
“Then we’ll have to go from there,” Menard said. “I just can’t see myself voting for a 5% increase when so many people are hurting.”
Before the hearing, Downs presented an overview of the budget, which, if approved, would take effect July 1.
The budget projects operating expenses will increase about $746,000, or 5%, and revenue and use of the town’s general fund balance will jump $263,000, or 5%.
The budget includes four staffing adjustments and additions: moving a part-time generalist in the Human Resources and Town Manager’s Office and a part-time administrative assistant in the public services department to full-time status; making four per-diem firefighter-paramedics full-time employees; and creating an 11-week, entry-level lifeguard position.
The select board will hold its second and final public hearing on the budget on May 26. The board is expected to sign the warrant for the annual town meeting on April 28. The town will post the warrant no later than April 29. Absentee ballots for the annual town meeting will be available starting May 11.
For more details about the budget, visit online at kennebunkmaine.us/budget.