City Council Approves Budget, No New Firefighters or Dispatchers

L to R: City Councilors Ayn Hanselmann, Bob Stackpole and Luke Lanigan

On Tuesday, June 23, the Sanford City Council met via Zoom and approved a $34.6 million budget after three and a half hours of debate on several amendments. The budget covers municipal operations only. The school budget was approved by voter referendum earlier this month.

The Budget Committee worked on the budget through the winter and early spring, and in April forwarded it to the Council for approval. At that time, revenue figures from the state were uncertain, so they left several items unresolved for the Council to decide once those numbers were known. The Council reviewed the budget at its April 20 meeting, but tabled it until the Legislature could finish its work.

Tuesday night’s meeting began with a review of the budget as forwarded by the Budget Committee by City Manager Steven Buck, before the Council debated and voted on each proposed amendment.

Councilor John Tuttle motioned to add $160,227 to the budget to fund two Firefighter/EMS positions for nine months, with hiring delayed until the fall. The motion failed on a 2-5 vote, with no discussion. Councilor Luke Lanigan was the only other yes vote. Fire Chief Steve Benotti was recognized and said he had his hand raised to speak before the vote was taken, but Mayor Anne-Marie Mastraccio didn’t see it. He angrily called the vote “a slap in the face” and said the Council is not in tune to what makes the different departments in the City actually run. Councilor Lanigan pointed out that the Council accepted a contract three years ago to increase the number of firefighters when the number of fire stations was reduced from three to two, but that has not been done.

The next item concerned funding two additional Dispatcher positions for the Sanford Regional Communications Center. Deputy Mayor Maura Herlihy motioned to not include this item in the budget. Mr. Buck said having these additional positions would help SRCC to retain staff by decreasing the shifts from 12 to 8 hours, but that hiring the additional people is likely not achievable at this time. The vote was unanimous, meaning the positions will not be added this year.

Councilor Tuttle motioned to include $17,112 in the budget to fund the part-time grant writer position for another year. Lee Burnett, who currently holds the position, gave a compelling presentation to the Budget Committee this past spring detailing the money that his work brings into the community from the many grants the city is awarded. Mr. Buck called it “a good value” and Councilor Bob Stackpole agreed. The vote was 6-1 in favor, with Mayor Mastraccio the lone vote in opposition.

The Council voted unanimously to increase the Utilities line item by $50,000 to cover increases in gas and oil prices.

There was lengthy discussion on the $13,500 budget for the City’s support of the Chamber of Commerce. Councilor Tuttle motioned to include the full amount in the budget. Councilor Ayn Hanselmann spoke at length of her disappointment with the Chamber’s work. “In the last year, when we needed our Chamber the very most, we have seen very little effort to invigorate local shopping,” she said, adding that in the nine months of the current fiscal year, the organization has spent only $1,000 on marketing. She continued, “the Chamber Board are great people…this feels terrible…but this decision can’t be based on these factors.”

Councilor Lanigan argued that it was unfair to strip away funding from an organization of local business owners, and asked the Council to consider at least partial funding for one more year. Mayor Mastraccio responded that a condition of the reduced rent the Chamber pays on their office in the City’s building was that they would provide significant partnership on economic development, but that hasn’t happened in her opinion.

The motion for the $13,500 failed on a 2-5 vote with Councilors Tuttle and Lanigan the only votes in favor. Councilor Lanigan then motioned to give the Chamber $3,500 to continue its program of offering free one-year memberships to new businesses. That measure passed on a vote of 4-3, with Councilors Stackpole and Herlihy providing the additional support. In a separate item, the Council unanimously voted to purchase a Chamber membership for the City at a cost of $603.

The Council unanimously voted to spend $27,900 for half of the matching funds for a COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) grant, with the other half to come from the Police Department’s existing budget. The COPS grant, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, will fund the Department’s Community Resource Officer and a second officer to work on issues of homelessness and substance abuse.

On a 6-1 vote, the Council voted to reinstate the position of Parks and Recreation Director, on a delayed hire. The nine months of salary and benefits total $82,447. Mr. Buck noted that Parks and Rec has been operating with a separate Parks Director and Recreation Director, but those individuals do not want the additional duties. Councilor Jonathan Martell was the only vote in opposition.

A motion to approve $8,950 to cover the underestimate on the west side snow plowing bid failed on a vote of 1-6. Mr. Buck said he was comfortable with the PWD’s ability to absorb the amount in its regular budget.

The Council voted unanimously to approve $72,655 in matching funds for reconstruction of Taxiway C at the Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport. This represents less than 3% of the cost of the $2.3 million project, which will be funded by the federal government.

The Council also voted unanimously on a new proposed amendment to add $7,000 to the Planning Department budget to contract out work on the City’s update to the Comprehensive Plan. The work is behind schedule due to the Planning Department being shorthanded for several months, and the abundance of site plan applications they have had to review.

After all the amendments had been voted on, Councilor Stackpole motioned to reconsider the two firefighter positions. All except Councilor Martell were willing to reconsider, and discussion on the issue continued. Mr. Buck said there are currently four firefighters out with injuries, which is not unusual, putting a further burden on the reduced number of staff. “The city made a determination years ago we need 13 per shift, and we are now staffed at 11,” he said.

Councilor Lanigan encouraged people to get a scanner to get a better idea of how busy the Fire Department is on a daily basis. He motioned to fund the two positions for six months instead of nine. Counselor Hanselmann argued for pushing the new positions out to a future budget. Councilor Stackpole countered that this is the time to do it. “If not now, when?” he asked. The amendment for six months’ funding failed.

Debate continued on funding the two firefighter positions for the full nine months. Mayor Mastraccio said she expects the 4.5% revenue sharing to bring in more than estimated in the budget. (The budgeted amount is based on the amount of revenue the state expects to bring in, but if the state receives more than that, cities and towns across the state will also receive more.) She urged Councilors to wait until later in the summer to revisit the issue. Changes can still be made to the municipal budget any time up until the third week of July, when the assessment is finalized and the mill rate is set. After that, the Council may still accept additional revenues and expend those funds, without affecting the tax rate. The measure failed on a 3-4 vote, with Councilors Tuttle, Lanigan and Stackpole in favor. Councilor Martell indicated he might also change his vote to a yes if more revenue is received.

More About the Municipal Budget

The bulk of the city’s $34.6 million appropriations budget is made up of fixed costs, including contracted salaries and benefits, and contracted services. It includes the following:

  • $27.4 million budgeted for municipal services, including salaries and benefits for city employees including police, fire and public works staff; maintaining city-owned buildings, parks and other facilities. This represents an increase of 4.34% over last year
  • $1.8 million in debt service on bond issues for roads and other large projects. This is an increase of 51.84% over last year, which was expected due to the 2019 referendum on roadway project bonds.
  • County tax of $797,512
  • $561,975 for the city’s libraries, primarily personnel costs
  • $80,840 for outside agencies the City lends support to
  • $3.99 million in capital reserve for large projects including road construction, large equipment and vehicle purchases

The Maine Legislature recently increased municipal revenue sharing to 4.5%, which adds $629,931 to the revenue side of the budget compared with last year. Total revenues in the 2021-2022 budget are $14,667,671, an increase of 10.07% compared with last year. $850,00 of the unexpected fund balance is planned to be utilized as well. The City will also get an increase of $840,582 from the state for school EPS (Essential Programs and Services), but the School Department has said they don’t need this extra money, so it can be used to reduce taxation.

Including the school budget, the total amount to be raised from taxation is $34,073,436, an increase of just 1.66% from last year’s budget. However, the high increase in home values means that taxes will likely increase considerably more than that. The exact amount will not be known until the assessor’s work is completed in July, and the final numbers on the Homestead and other tax exemptions are in. At this time the mill rate is estimated to be set at $18.30, a significant decrease from last year’s rate of $20.16. But at the same time, Sanford/Springvale’s total property valuation will also increase by an estimated 12%, according to Mr. Buck.

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