HOULTON, Maine — Town councilors on Monday evening finalized a plan to use surplus funds to help ease the burden on taxpayers, even as they learned that they would have to unexpectedly pay for more than $18,000 worth of repairs to the Houlton Fire Department’s 23-year-old ladder truck.
Fire Chief Milton Cone came before the council during the 45-minute meeting to discuss necessary repairs to the 1993 truck, which was found to be in need of repair during an equipment check on July 30.
According to Cone, firefighters were conducting checks when they experienced issues raising and retracting the ladder on the truck. They contacted the factory on Aug. 1 and were told to check the hydromotion swivel, Cone said, which sits at the top of the ladder truck and at the base of the ladder. The water for the truck goes through the device, as do the hydraulics and the electrical power components.
The unit needs to be replaced, the chief said.
“They told us that this normally happens once during the life of the truck, so we have made it pretty far with this one,” he said.
The town will purchase a rebuilt model instead of a new unit at a cost of $18,212, from the factory-authorized agent in Connecticut. Because the factory representatives are familiar with the Houlton Fire Department and its work and believe that it can replace the unit themselves, Cone said the town will save “thousands” in repair costs.
“We are confident we can do it,” Cone said.
In other business, councilors voted to transfer $165,000 from the municipal surplus account in an effort to reduce taxes.
The town customarily sets its tax rate in July, and in the past, the town has dipped into its surplus fund to offset taxation and hold or lower the tax rate.
During the last meeting, Town Manager Butch Asselin laid out a budget plan that offered the council three options. On Monday evening, they chose the option that increases the tax rate from 21.75 to 22.25 mills. That proposal also calls for using $165,000 in surplus funds to cover the remaining half-mill needed to balance the budget and provide an overlay of $66,000.
According to information provided by the town, properties that benefit from the homestead exemption would see a net tax decrease of $66 on a $100,000 valuation, while commercial properties would see a tax increase of $50 for every $100,000 valuation.
Asselin had recommended that the council go with this suggestion, calling it a “middle of the road” approach.