April 09, 2020

Houlton council OKs budget plan> $6.2 million proposal less than last year’s; public hearing scheduled

HOULTON — The Town Council agreed by consensus Wednesday night to a proposed 1998 budget of $6.2 million.

The proposed budget is about $40,000 less than what was spent last year. The Town Council will hold a public hearing on Thursday, Feb. 5, before a final figure is approved.

Since the budget is passed at the discretion of the council, that body can raise or lower amounts in each account the night of the hearing. For the most part Wednesday, the council and budget board were in agreement.

In the area of health and social services, the budget board recommended that an extra $1,500 be added to the budget for the Meals for Me program to local senior citizens.

The topic has been controversial for the past several years. As the Town Council has sought ways to cut back spending, funding requests from nonmunicipal organizations have been axed. One of those was the Aroostook Area Agency on Aging, which handles the meals program.

Last year, the budget board again sought funding for the program, but the council, in a controversial split decision, cut the extra money after the public hearing.

The meals-funding request was left in the 1998 proposed budget, but Council Chairwoman Catherine Davis pointed out that since the town had previously declined to provide funding for the program at taxpayer expense, other private agencies and organizations had stepped in to fill the gap.

It was possible, she said, that with the town back in the picture, the other organizations might pull back their support.

There also was discussion concerning the Code Enforcement Department and the town’s Community and Economic Development Office. The two agencies share the services of a secretary, but the budget board felt the code enforcement officer didn’t need the help. It recommended cutting more than $8,100 from the two departments which had been requested for that purpose.

“I don’t think the codes officer needs a letter opener,” said Councilor Phillip Bernaiche in support of the budget board’s recommendation.

Town Manager Allan Bean defended the original request by noting that it was more important for the CEO to be out in the field where construction was going on and where there were potential code violations, rather than spending his time in the office doing routine paperwork.

In the end, the council decided not to follow the recommendation, but to leave the money in place since the two departments often work together.

In a related matter, it was suggested at an earlier budget workshop that in order to improve communications between various agencies that handle economic development in the town, including the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce, that perhaps those agencies could share the same office space.

A meeting will be held Thursday, Jan. 22, at the town office to discuss options and proposals that could be implemented to meet that goal.

“We need to send a very strong message on [community] development,” said Davis.

Making the Cary Memorial Library accessible to handicapped people also was discussed. As yet, the split-level facility does not fully comply with requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

It was proposed that an additional $3,800 be added to the budget to cover the cost of an engineering study to determine what needs to be done to comply with federal law.

“You’ve got to know what you’ve got to do, before you can spend any money to do it,”said Bean.

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