One Step In Many For The Town’s Budget Process
BAR HARBOR—The Warrant Committee’s subcommittees began their discussions this week and the first two meetings focused on education and public safety.
HOW THE PROCESS WORKS
It’s a process that’s a bit complicated. These meetings of the subcommittees are mostly to discuss each portion of the budget. Individual members can then email their personal recommendations to the chair of their subcommittee. Then the subcommittee chairs make recommendations to the Warrant Committee, which then takes a recommendation and statement to the Town Council.
That’s just the first step.
The Town Council then makes its own recommendation and adopts the budget. After that, at its own meeting, the Warrant Committee can affirm the council’s recommendation or it can make its own.
The committee also presents a report at the end of the year to the Town Council that can include past budget discussion.
The town voters at the annual town meeting are the ones who actually vote on the budget and they can make changes on the floor of the town meeting. So, if the budget included a line item for $1,000 in gnomes (it doesn’t), someone on the floor can advocate for more money to that line or to eradicate it. That change would have to be voted on.
Subcommittee Chair Robert Chaplin, Warrant Committee Chair Seth Libby, Louise Lopez, and Jeffery Young sat around long tables in the large auditorium of the third floor of the Bar Harbor Municipal Building Wednesday night, papers splayed out in front of them, computers open and started to talk about the education budget, which was just finalized and revised this Monday by the Conners-Emerson Board.
The revised budget for fiscal year 2023 to 2024 budget is $8,330,965, an increase of 5.50%. That comes to a 1.70% increase to the town’s total appropriation for the school.
While none of the discussion is yet a recommendation, the committee members bounced ideas off each other for things. One of those things is the requested addition of a hybrid van (and charging stations) at $50,000. This is meant to decrease staff and school liability, which happens when staff has to transport students in their own vehicles. Committee members wondered if it could possibly be a joint purchase with the town or could the school buy a cheaper used vehicle or use Island Explorer busses or taxis instead.
There was also discussion about worries for the taxpayers, particularly those in downtown proper who have already had sewer and water increases to help pay for infrastructure as well as a recent whole town property revaluation. Now, they said, those tax payers are stuck with footing the bill for the school building’s decline as well as infrastructure needs.
“These are kick the can down the road sort of things that we are dealing with now,” Lopez said. “It’s raining,” she said about the needs, but people don’t realize that it hasn’t substantially rained in years.
“It’s a downpour,” Champlin said.
The key, Lopez said is to remember that the whole town is all doing this together and that everyone got here together by past decisions that put off big needs into the future.
“It feels like we all got to the same place,” no matter how they arrived, Young agreed. He wanted to discuss how to help the school help itself in case the voters deny the bond project. “What is the hit list of needs,” he asked. What does it take to keep the school running, to keep the roof from leaking, to stop water infiltration, to make sure the air quality doesn’t go bad, and to keep the school heated after its history of boiler problems.
Because of worries about increasing taxes, there was discussion about whether or not any service enhancements should be approved. The maintenance of effort budget is where the town maintains the same level of service. That typically goes up because of cost of living and negotiated contracts with staff.
“For most of the things in the school budget there is no discretion for the Warrant Committee,” Libby said. Those are things like the salary and benefits for teachers, administrators and support staff.
Safety concerns are high priority needs for the subcommittee.
The committee discussed the second nursing position, which had been until the upcoming fiscal year paid for by ESSR grants. Now the budget includes money covering the part not covered by the grant. They wondered if there was a way to share that nurse with Northeast Harbor to help decrease the cost.
Service enhancements include the addition of a MTSS behavioral interventionist and the addition of a regular educational technician.
Chaplin said, “This is a real challenge to help the school and help the town and get the best of it. Part of our responsibility is to bring the town together.”
The other members agreed.
PUBLIC SAFETY SUBCOMMITTEE
Wednesday night’s meeting of the Warrant Committee’s Public Safety Subcommittee started off with motions for a subcommittee chair. Kevin DesVeaux quickly nominated the current chair, Julie Berberian as the new chair. DesVeaux’s motion was quickly seconded by member Chris Smith and then cemented by a unanimous vote.
Fire Chief Matt Bartlett was in attendance, so the group started with the fire department’s budget. There was discussion about the ambulance revenue decrease in the 2022 budget and Chief Bartlett responded that that was because of COVID-19 and the substantial decrease in tourism.
Member Eben Salvatore asked about the relationship between ambulance revenue and cruise ships, and Chief Bartlett said that they have no way of tracking where the patients come from. He explained further that they know when someone is a cruise ship passenger or staff when they pick them up from one of the pier facilities, but they have no way of knowing when a patient is from a cruise ship if they pick them up from any other location. He further explained that there is no triggering question in their routine patient questions that would give them that information.
They also discussed cost of living wage increases at 6%, and Bartlett responded that is not an accurate figure because they are unionized now and they have contractual increases which are actually a bit lower but that they do increase slightly as the contract years change. He said that FY 23 was the first year of the contract and that the contracts are three years long so in FY 25 they will be in negotiations again.
The price of goods and services continues to rise and for the purposes of some capital improvement line items, Bartlett explained some of the increases that he has been made aware of by vendors.
The manufacturers of fire trucks and ambulances have stated that they have seen a 1% increase per month for the last 36 months for materials used to build the vehicles. Suppliers of other products such as firefighter turnout gear have been seeing two price increases per year, rather than one. One increase would be in January and another in June or July.
Perhaps the most shocking example was that the price of a particular needle used for IVs has increased from $80 per needle to $200.
As the subcommittee covered the rest of the fire department’s budget, there was interaction on many other subjects including the public safety building maintenance, dry hydrant repair and/or replacement, advanced training for the EMTs and how this opportunity can increase employee longevity and recruitment, new positions to co-staff the Mount Desert Fire Department’s Somesville station and the possibility of eventually adding a new fire inspector position that would be shared with the Code Enforcement Department.
The subcommittee then delved into the budgets of the other public safety entities, the police department and the harbormaster. There was relatively little discussion about these budgets and most of it centered around specific questions and the need for clarification from department heads or interim Town Manager and Finance Director Sarah Gilbert in preparation for the subcommittee’s next meeting in March. This meeting has not been scheduled yet.
One item that was discussed and seemed to be, in Eben Salvatore’s words, “a no-brainer” was the addition of a mental health professional to the police department. This position would be a shared position with the Mount Desert Police Department and would be funded for its first year via an ARPA grant and then via a 60-40 split with the MDPD.
The following service enhancement from the police department would not come out of the general funds any longer for this upcoming year.
Editor’s Note: Shaun Farrar used to be a police sergeant in Bar Harbor. Carrie Jones was once (for a very short time) an on-call firefighter.
LINKS TO LEARN MORE
Fire Department Presentation – View presentation video (09:58)
Code Enforcement Presentation – View presentation video (57:23)
Police Department Presentation – View presentation video (1:14:02)
Education Budget Presentation – View presentation video (23:55)
Mental Health Crises And Bar Harbor Police
Bar Harbor Story is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber. And many thanks to Shaun for covering the other meeting. I’m super proud of him. There were multiple overlapping town meetings on Tuesday.