NEWPORT — Members of the town budget committee trimmed the proposed 1998 municipal budget Tuesday night and created a 20-cent drop in the expected tax rate.
It was not enough to prevent a tax increase this year. The increases in the SAD 48 assessment, county tax and tipping fees for solid waste created a 1 mill increase by themselves, budget committee Chairman Phil Brown said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
The increases translate to an estimated tax rate of $15.50 per $1,000 of valuation, up from $14.20 in 1997, according to interim Town Manager Evelyn Ricker. The proposal taken to the budget committee Tuesday night originally contained an estimated rate of $15.70. Recommended cuts made by the budget committee trimmed 0.2 mill off the estimated rate.
Without taking money from surplus, or the fund balance, the tax rate could have been another mill higher, Brown said. The committee supported the proposal to take $125,000 from surplus to reduce the tax rate. It was the same amount appropriated last year, he said.
The committee trimmed funds from the administration account and added to the professional services for advertising because of Town Manager Arthur Ellingwood’s illness. He is not expected to return, and advertising for a replacement has started.
“It went real smooth,” Brown said of Tuesday’s meeting. “There were a lot of questions. This was no rubber-stamp budget.
“We spent nearly four hours, and there was time for some brainstorming,” he said, explaining that 19 members out of 24 were present for the session.
Ricker pointed out two other funding issues were not decided by the committee because cost estimates were not available. The town was advised to make structural repairs to the north wall of the fire hall before it falls out toward the parking lot. Town officials also are debating the need for a generator to power town buildings in future power outages. Those two items could add more than $30,000 to the budget and a quarter of a mill to the tax rate.
The committee made one recommendation for the town to borrow money for rather than purchase outright a new public works truck for the town.
“The town can borrow for a lot less than we [taxpayers] can,” Brown said.
The committee recommended appropriating $2,500 for the truck and borrowing the balance of $10,000 for three years.
With the budget committee review complete, the budget will be incorporated into the annual town warrant for a March 7 town meeting. Elections for selectmen, a school director, and trustees for the water and sewer districts will be held March 6.