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Fort Fairfield Schools Seek An Additional $200,000 From Local Taxpayers


If School Budget Passes, Town’s Mil Rate Will Have to Increase Significantly


No Local Taxpayers Show up for Budget Public Hearing


By:  David Deschesne

Fort Fairfield Journal, May 24, 2017


   The second, and final, public hearing on Fort Fairfield’s proposed town budget was held on May 10, 2017.  Outside of a few town councilors and this writer, nobody from the general public was in attendance to either hear the budget proposal or voice any comments.  And this at a time when a significant tax increase is being proposed.

   The current Fiscal Year 2017-18 Fort Fairfield town budget tops out at $5,136,939 - or nearly $300,000 more than last year's budget.  Of the $300,000 increase two thirds - or just south of $200,000 - is a massive increase over last year's budget for the MSAD #20 school district which services Fort Fairfield's two public schools.

   In the opening of their 2016-17 school year, Fort Fairfield schools had a K-12 enrollment of just 516 students.  With a total school budget of around $6 million per year, that amounts to approximately $11,627 per student, per year in education costs - a tuition rate comparable to a modest community college tuition.

   Fort Fairfield taxpayers paid MSAD #20 $2,086,564 from their local property tax revenues last year and if the budget passes, will be required to pay $2,286,352 this year - or an increase of 1.35 mils on their property tax bill.

   This writer reached out to MSAD #20 Superintendent, Tim Doak for comment on the nearly $200,000 increase to the Fort Fairfield taxpayers' share of their budget, but hasn't received any response as of the printing of this edition of Fort Fairfield Journal.

   In addition to the expanded school budget, the Fort Fairfield Public library and fire department are also seeing significant increases.

   “We're taking the library back up to the number of hours they had in 2014. We're restoring the librarian from 23 hours per week to the fiscal year 2013-14 level at 35 hours per week, with benefits,” said Fort Fairfield town manager, Jim Risner.

   The Fort Fairfield Public Library has been seeing a moderate increase in floor traffic, provides free internet access to its patrons and was recently awarded a NASA library designation - the only library in Maine to have achieved that status.

   The Fort Fairfield Fire Department will see an increase on its budget line to allow for a small stipend for the overnight shift of volunteer firefighters and an increase to the town's capital reserves to set aside money for new self-contained breathing apparatus equipment.  “We're including a stipend for volunteer firefighters working the 11pm-7am shift.  Currently firefighters who cover that shift get paid nothing unless they get called out on a fire call,” explained Risner.  “The chief recommended, based on his experience, if you're going to have a volunteer basically be tied to home in the evening before [their shift] they really can't do much, so we've got to compensate them a little.  We initially put $40 in per shift, but cut that back to $20.00  because of where the budget is.  We don't compensate volunteers hardly anything, anyway, but it's a great service to the community.”

   Risner also explained how he's proposing to set aside money for new breathing equipment for the fire department.    “The Fire Department's self-contained breathing apparatus is really a three year project, their shelf life expires in three years.  To totally replace them is just under $100,000 so if we can put a third of that away each year, in the meantime we'll continue to look for grants to pay for some or all of that equipment.  If we can find grants we can take that saved money and do something else with it, but I don't want to get caught in year three and have a $100,000 bill in order to have the proper equipment for firefighters.” 

   Other cost increases to the town's budget are a health insurance increase across the board at 11.25% and the minimum wage increase. “The minimum wage increase impacts the Recreation Department but it's really going to hit us in 2019 because as everybody knows not only is the minimum wage going up, it's going up very quickly and that's going to impact Parks and Rec, and the Library.” 

   The current projected budget deficit is just under $300,000 or approximately 2.30 mils.  “Based on our current valuation, a mil will raise approximately $148,000.   For the school we're looking at a 1.35 mil rate increase to cover the increase in their budget.  On the town's side, $100,000 which is a .68 mil rate increase,” said Risner.  “Some of the things that covers is the highway garage roof.  It's basically a three year project that should have probably been started two years ago.  We have to really get that started this year. The revaluation council agreed three years ago to do a four year, $25,000 per year set-aside for the reval and we have a police car that we're also looking at replacing.”

   The school's budget is up for a public vote soon; keep watching the bulletin board at the bank and credit union for the announcement.  The Town council budget vote is set for their June 21 town council meeting.  Property valuations and estimated mil rate will be in August and the town council will set the mil rate at their September town council meeting for an October 1 commitment.