Gray's proposes budget increase of 13 percent

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GRAY — The proposed overall town budget for the coming fiscal year of more than $8 million represents an increase of just over 13 percent from the previous year. 

In comparison, the town’s budget increased by just under 6 percent between fiscal years 2015 and 2016. 

While the town’s expenses would increase under the proposal, so too would the revenues generated from sources such as the excise tax and building fees. The budget proposal projects $3.8 million in revenue from those sources, meaning that the roughly $4.2 million remaining in expenses would need to be paid through property taxes.

That $4.2 million difference between expenses and projected revenues is a 12.94 percent increase of $486,532 from the previous year. 

The Town Council held a public hearing Tuesday night to discuss the budget proposal, and Town Manager Deborah Cabana gave a presentation with the details. 

“There are a few decreases from what we originally thought the budget was going to be,” Cabana said, noting that the proposal had decreased in cost slightly since it last came before the council a few weeks ago. 

Cabana highlighted some of the expenses within the budget proposal, including personnel changes, an increase in the cost of insurance provided to town employees, a change in the town’s IT software, and increases in town legal fees. 

The personnel changes include three additional full-time fire-rescue positions in the public safety department, and an additional part-time code enforcement position, among others. 

A major funding item that is not included in the budget proposal – a $500,000 transfer from the town’s Unassigned Fund Balance to the Capital Reserve Fund for the purchase of a ladder truck – will appear on the ballot in June as a separate warrant article. Voters will decide whether or not to approve that ladder truck authorization when they also vote on the budget, though Cabana said the decision whether to approve the truck funding will not impact the proposed budget numbers becuase the funds would come from an existing account. 

Fran Monroe was the only member of the public to offer a response during Tuesday night’s hearing. She suggested that more could be done to cut costs, including a search for different and potentially cheaper town legal representation. 

“This is a very high increase, the percentage is unmanageable for your everyday citizens here in Gray, which is the majority of the town,” Monroe said. “I think people would be infuriated once they get the message out how much it’s really going to cost them this year.” 

“Obviously, I’m not someone who wants to spend a bunch of money, in fact I really suggest that you cut this,” Monroe continued, though she did also suggest that the town could invest more in economic development projects. 

Council Chairwoman Lynn Gallagher responded to Monroe and expressed support for the budget. 

“We had very thoughtful, very drawn-out conversations about items,” said Gallagher. “I think the final product is something that the town of Gray can be proud of.”

“I know it’s 12.(9)4 percent, which is a lot, and I understand that. But the council worked really hard to bring it down – to try to make sure there was an assessment of needs versus wants,” Gallagher continued. “I’m fully supportive of the budget as is.”  

“We are trying to make policy that is keeping down the mil rate and things like that,” added Councilor Jason Wilson.

The approximately $4.2 million net difference between expenses and revenues in the proposed budget will need to be funded by town property taxes. The current tax rate for fiscal year 2017 is $18.05 per $1,000 assessed value of property. Cabana said after Tuesday’s meeting that there is no current estimate for how the proposed budget would impact the property tax rate, in part because the town is in the middle of a tax reevaluation. 

Information about the budget proposal is available on the town website

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or mjunker@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

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