BELFAST, Maine — The Belfast city budget for the next fiscal year won’t cost taxpayers anything extra, despite a half million dollar increase over last year.
The $12.16 million city budget will be offset by a jump in estimated revenues and the use of some of the city’s surplus funds. That leaves property owners on the hook for $6.37 million for the municipal budget — the exact same amount as last year.
“This city presented a flat budget. We did not raise the city’s share of property taxes one cent,” Councilor Neal Harkness said at last week’s regular council meeting. “This is a miracle. This is incredible work.”
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Belfast taxpayers will see a slight increase in the mill rate overall, though, due to increases to the school and county budgets, which are separate from the city budget. The mill rate, or the tax rate used to calculate property taxes, is likely to move from 22 to 22.3, officials said. The increase means that a property assessed at $200,000 will see its taxes go up by $60 this year.
While the overall city budget is increasing marginally, there are some areas of greater growth within the budget.
“The cost of doing business has increased. I don’t need to tell anybody that,” City Manager Erin Herbig said. “Just as a bag of groceries costs more, so does tar patch, salt, sewer pipes, ink cartridges, paper and vehicles, if and when you can get them.”
City officials and department heads worked hard to limit expenditures everywhere possible, Herbig said.
Still, they are opting to do maintenance to city infrastructure that was previously deferred and purchase new equipment, especially for the fire and ambulance departments.
Belfast has been able to offset increased costs in its municipal budget with the help of the use of $356,279 in surplus funds and higher estimated revenues in many areas. Those include an expected increase from last year of more than $88,000 in ambulance receipts, more than $64,000 in harbor receipts and more than $150,000 in state revenue sharing. The city’s push toward the installation of solar panels also helps, thanks to a sharp decrease in the municipal electric bill and a property tax exemption of $160,000.
Other expenditures, like offering better pay and benefits for first responders will be paid through the city’s share of federal American Rescue Plan funds for the next four years, the city manager said.
“We really, really tried [to keep the budget down] because we knew that people still feel the instability [of the economy],” Herbig said. “We’re just trying to be as creative as possible.”