GRAY — Town officials are working to explain the hefty hike in this year’s municipal budget to voters ahead of the town election June 13.
In hopes that attempting to pass a 13 percent increase in expenses on the 13th day of the month doesn’t prove unlucky, council members and Town Manager Deborah Cabana discussed at this week’s council meeting ways to help Gray residents understand the proposed budget and what it means for the town.
“We need to celebrate and talk about the quality of life, family life, in Gray. There’s a price for it,” said Councilor Richard Barter. “Each of us needs to take a greater responsibility in communicating to the public of this town the value of this budget.”
“We’re looking openly, objectively, creatively in finding better ways in getting the message out,” Barter continued. “The message is a good message, because it is a good town.”
Cabana revealed for the first time Tuesday that the proposed municipal budget increase, coupled with Gray’s share of the proposed increase in the SAD 15 school budget, would result in a $1.05 increase in Gray’s tax rate.
That would essentially result in a 5.82 percent increase in property taxes by potentially raising the tax rate from $18.05 to $19.10. Such a change would mean that the property tax bill for a home valued at $200,000 would increase from $3,610 to $3,820.
In her remarks Tuesday night, Cabana said that there had been some misconceptions about the proposed increase and its impact on local taxes.
“I am hearing that there is some information out there that our taxes are going up 20 percent,” Cabana said. “No, thankfully that’s not true. It’s 5.82.”
The impact on the tax rate was not initially available when Cabana presented her budget message to the council and Gray citizens in mid-April. Cabana at the time cited uncertainty surrounding the ongoing town-wide property revaluation. Council Chairwoman Lynn Gallagher announced Tuesday night that the council decided earlier in executive session to extend the revaluation until next year.
The tax rate information shared Tuesday night was posted to the town’s Facebook page on May 10 as part of an explanation of each warrant article on the upcoming ballot. That information is also available on the town website.
Councilors discussed other ways to get information out via social media, including the possibility of creating YouTube videos to explain all or individual parts of the budget. Cabana said she would be happy to coordinate efforts for councilors to submit messages in support of the budget to local papers.
During the meeting, Councilor Jason Wilson offered his take on why the proposed budget has a significant increase.
“I look at the reason why you have this increase – one, we did have the great recession which happened,” Wilson said. “We did have councilors that pushed for a zero-based budget … I think that combined, that creates a bubble, and basically it can swell up faster than you think. Now, it seems to be at that point. The past lag has caught up to us.”
Wilson also pointed out that the June 13 ballot breaks the budget out into several different warrant articles that will allow voters to approve or reject parts of the budget rather than all of it or none of it.
“The budget is kind of like an a la carte service, to a certain degree,” Wilson continued. “They have separate articles, you don’t have to agree with and vote to approve all of those. So they do have a choice – it’s not all lumped in.”
Chairwoman Gallagher said in a statement on Wednesday after the meeting that the two major operational increases in the budget were health insurance costs for town employees and additional staff added – including three new firefighter/EMS positions.
Gallagher also pointed to Capital Improvement Plan funding as another driver of the increase, with the budget including $200,000 for the CIP fund to “start saving for the known future costs.”
“In my opinion, these increases in the municipal budget are a result of our growing community and the council/town’s attempts to meet the needs of its citizens,” Gallagher said. “The council (along with town staff) worked extremely hard to put together a budget that is fair, reasonable and meets the needs of the town.”
Gallagher also noted that the nearly 6 percent increase in the town’s tax rate would include the school budget increase, local and county tax increases and TIF financial planning.
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.