HARPSWELL, Maine — Harpswell’s three selectmen are reviewing a proposed $4.5 million town budget.
The fiscal 2015 spending plan includes $110,000 for a share of the legal fees from a court battle over Cedar Beach Road, more than $32,400 for employee pay increases, $9,000 to fund a public transit pilot project and a $5,000 hike in the road commissioner’s salary.
Despite the new spending, there is less than a 2 percent increase in appropriations over last year. The budget will be presented to voters at a town meeting in March.
If passed, the budget would have less than a 1 percent increase on the town’s property tax rate, leaving the municipal $6.10 property tax rate virtually unchanged, according to Town Administrator Kristi Eiane.
The municipal budget does not include the town’s share of the School Administrative District 75 budget, which is expected to increase and change the 2015 tax rate, Eiane added.
A one-time reduction in funding to reserve accounts, including a capital fund for improvement to buildings and infrastructure, and a reserve for emergency vehicles, is proposed to offset the new spending.
The Cedar Beach funding would be raised through a direct appropriation, not as a bond, Eiane said. In 2013, voters approved $220,000 in bonds to acquire a public access to Cedar Beach, but that authority expired Dec. 31, 2014.
Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters, the organization that has fought to open the road to the Bailey Island beach, asked selectmen in November to propose a bond to fund about half the court costs it expects to incur.
In September, a judge sided with the group, ruling that the public has a right to use Cedar Beach Road. Betsy Atkins, the road’s owner, has appealed that ruling.
Specific wording for the town meeting warrant is still being drafted, and the appropriation has yet to be reviewed by the Board of Selectmen, but Eiane said her sense is that the board “will be supporting that request.”
Selectmen, at their meeting Jan. 8, reviewed line items authorizing an across-the-board pay increase for town employees.
All employees will get a 2 percent pay raise with additional increases based on how long they have worked for the town. Several hourly employees will receive larger increases to align their pay with a new wage scale adopted by the town.
A wage and salary survey commissioned by selectmen and released last November indicated that town employees in Harpswell are generally paid less than their colleagues in comparable towns.
Road Commissioner Rob Ponziani would receive a $5,000 pay increase in the proposed budget, raising his annual salary to $20,000. When he was elected in 2012, Ponziani was paid $6,000 per year.
Ponziani initially requested selectmen consider raising his pay to $30,000 per year, but the board decided to recommend the smaller increase, noting that the position might not warrant what amounts to a full-time salary.
Selectmen intend to review the remaining budget items this month before sending it to voters in March.