Board reviews budget process, sets tax rate

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FARMINGTON – Taking into consideration feedback from the select board, the budget committee, and members of the community, Town Manager Christian Waller recommended starting the upcoming budget process earlier than last year, to allow more time for review and discussion of the budgets. He also proposed that the budget committee and select board hold budget presentations together to ensure that both parties are receiving the same information.

In addition, Waller advised that the town develop a Capital Improvement Plan to outline anticipated ‘big ticket’ items outside of the town’s normal operating expenses. This could range from new streetlights to new snowplows and fire apparatus. This plan would be a living document that is updated regularly and can be used to develop the budget, both now and in the future. 

Board Chair Matt Smith said that a capital improvement plan is needed; the town has had something similar in previous years and he found it helpful.

The board has been asked to brainstorm some of those projects and expenses, along with the department heads within the town. Waller is looking for ways to include the residents of Farmington in the process as well.

During the board meeting Tuesday, September 13, the town’s tax assessor John O’Donnell reported an increase in approximately $54 million in property valuation over the last year. With the larger numbers he advised strategic valuation planning to address future losses due to depreciation, dropping certified ratio, and state-aided funding formulas due to increased valuation.

Much of the increased valuation was due to the solar farm development. The New England Clean Energy Connect project had a $7 million increase in valuation, O’Donnell said. Other new construction and development accounted for ‘a couple million’ in the increased valuation.

The board reviewed the 2022 tax rate scenarios and voted to set the downtown TIF at $150,000 for the year. This scenario, with the assessor’s recommended overlay of $62,536, would result in a tax rate of 0.01805. The board set the overlay at $40,000.

As the town assessor, O’Donnell is responsible for setting the final tax rate; he will take the board’s guidance and work to set a tax rate within that ballpark.

In other business, a public hearing was held to review the self-assessment results for the Community Resilience Partnership grant application. The grant would be applied towards HVAC units on the roof at the community center. There was no public comment and the board approved the application.

Farmington Police Department has the opportunity to apply for a rotating grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. The grant is for the sum of $2,657. Police Chief Ken Charles requested permission to apply, and if awarded the grant, to accept it. The funds would be used to purchase additional ‘rifle armor’ plates and vests, which would provide the chief, deputy chief, and a detective with heavier-duty body armor. saThe purchase would be $3,293 in total, so Charles requested an additional $636 from the safety equipment account to meet the total. The board approved the request.

An expense of $2,500 was approved to replace the town clerk’s office door. The new door will have a window, to allow the clerk to better observe the front office.

Waller and selectman Stephan Bunker were voted in by the board to serve on the Maine Service Center Coalition as the representative and alternate for Farmington, respectively. The coalition represents communities that function as service centers for a region, and advocate at the state level to support these municipalities. Bunker said that he would report back to the board on the coalition’s work.

A special town meeting, to vote on a potential land acquisition and on appropriating funds for a new fire truck to replace Engine 2, has been scheduled for October 3 at 6:30 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Community Center.

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