Sanford Springvale News Banner

Copyright © 2024 – Sanford Springvale News – All rights reserved.

Council Begins Tackling 2024/25 Budget 

Sanford Fire Chief Scott Susi (in vest) addresses the City Council during a recent budget workshop.

Sanford Fire Chief Scott Susi (in vest) addresses the City Council during a recent budget workshop.

Photo: WSSRTV 

By Zendelle Bouchard 

The Sanford City Council has begun reviewing proposals for the fiscal year 2024/25 municipal budget.  

At a workshop on Jan. 30, 2024, City Manager Steve Buck went over his first draft of the budget, which he compiled with Finance Director Ronni-Lynn Champlin after the two held a series of meetings with city department heads. Buck told the Council he “had never seen a municipal budget this difficult,” even when he was Caribou’s Town Manager during tough economic times there.  

Buck said his proposed budget is reflective of significant changes in the labor market over the past few years, which required Sanford to become more competitive with salaries in order to retain and attract employees. The rise in wages is the single largest impact on the budget, he said, with an increase of $1,694,948 over the current year’s budget. Benefits are also going up substantially, with an increase of $884,426. Many of those salaries and benefits are under contracts, so the city cannot reduce those figures without cutting positions. 

Another expense classification being budgeted at a substantial increase is non-contract services, which includes the General Assistance budget. The influx of new Mainers to our city last year, with more expected this year, is the reason for the hike in that line item. GA Director Vicki Martin has requested converting the part-time caseworker position in her office to full time, to be filled by a new hire. Jeff Grace, who currently holds the part-time position, would stay on with reduced hours to cover vacations and help with translating. Buck supports the request, telling the Council the GA office “has been in crisis mode for years.” He said Grace is an especially valuable employee, as his knowledge of four languages saves the city a lot of money on translation services. City officials are hopeful that a bill currently being considered by the state legislature will raise the percentage of general assistance the state reimburses municipalities, to offset some of the increase. 

At a second workshop on Feb. 13, the Council heard directly from department heads on their priorities for the coming fiscal year.  

Police Chief Craig Andersen said he cut several things from his budget before submitting it as he knew it would be a tight year. One thing that is being cut is the SPD’s online reporting system, which he said came nowhere near reaching the target of 100 reports per month. 

Andersen is requesting a mental health first responder position be added to the SPD’s Mental Health Unit on the 4 pm to midnight shift. He said there are many calls for people in crisis that come in after the Department’s mental health clinician, Shannon Bentley, has gone home for the day, and there is significant risk in letting them fall through the cracks. He said the MHU does the yellow flag interventions and has been instrumental in preventing a couple of tragedies recently. See this recent story in the Portland Press Herald, which features Sanford’s MHU: click here.  Andersen said a qualified mental health clinician is very helpful in the yellow flag process, to illuminate why behaviors are occurring. 

The Police Chief is also requesting funds to institute an officer wellness program, which he called “an insurance plan for the mental health of first responders.” He said the program costs relatively little, but helps increase retention and reduce workers compensation claims, while keeping officers viable for a 25-year career. 

In the Sanford Fire Department, Chief Scott Susi’s major request is for the addition of the Community Paramedic Program, which has been under discussion for several months. The program is designed to support community members whose needs are not being met by the existing healthcare system, including the homebound, elderly and unhoused. He said these populations put a strain on the 911 system because they do not have the support or resources to get to regular medical appointments, and because incidences of slips, trips and falls are very high in this community. Many of them have no family close by and are “stranded in their own homes.” The lack of sufficient home care services is another factor. 

The salary and benefits for the Community Paramedic would be paid for through a grant, and Susi said he is pursuing other grant avenues to get the vehicle and equipment needed for the program but has not secured the funding yet. 

City Manager Buck said the new mental health position in the Police Department and the Community Paramedic might be able to be funded through the American Rescue Plan Act funds. This is the last year for the funds to be used. The city had budgeted $300,000 last year for the Land Bank to create a revolving fund for building new housing, but that money has not been used. Community Development Director Ian Houseal, who oversees the Land Bank, said builders with access to capital don’t need the funds. 

In the Public Works budget, there was lengthy discussion about the ramp-up for roadway improvements that the city has undertaken over the past few years. In the plan that was previously developed, the city would have increased the Capital Improvements budget for road construction by $500,000 in fiscal year 2024-25. There is consideration now of cutting that increase out altogether or reducing it to $250,000. The danger in not keeping pace with the increased cost of road repairs is that the condition of Sanford’s roads, which has improved measurably over the past few years, could start to deteriorate again. Public Works Director Matt Hill said operations and maintenance is “absolutely more critical” to protecting Sanford’s investment, rather than spending on new capital projects. 

Hill is also requesting funds for a larger lift for the highway garage, which would enable the department to do more repair work in-house on its own fleet as well as on other city-owned vehicles. 

In the Environmental Services division, Hill said there is good leadership at the transfer station and he is not seeking any new staff there. At the Jan. 30 workshop, Council members discussed a potential increase in the price of the Pay-As-You-Throw bags to offset increases in the cost of disposing of solid waste. A figure of $1 per sleeve was mentioned, but that will be discussed in more detail when the Council starts looking at the revenue side of the budget. 

Parks and Recreation Director Brady Lloyd is asking for an increase of $5,000 for the Trails Committee. He said their current $25,000 budget all goes toward trail maintenance, but the increase could be used for matching funds to allow them to apply for grants for capital improvements. 

Lloyd is requesting a wage increase for his part-time staffers to stay competitive in the labor market but is willing to cut some positions that have been unfilled for a few years to balance that extra cost. 

Facilities Director Alex Hammerle is requesting funds to refurbish the fire escapes at City Hall, which he described as being “in rough shape.” 

Allison Navia, Director of the Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport, is not asking for any additional staffing this year, but she said as the Airport continues to develop, an additional administrative person may be needed in three years or so. She would like to start setting aside some of the Airport’s small profits for future expenses but said “I get that this isn’t the year” due to the strain on the overall city budget. 

In the Administration budget, Buck said there is consideration of defunding the Community Development Director’s position and creating an Assistant City Manager position instead. This change has been discussed over the years, but one challenge is in covering all the tasks currently assigned to the Community Development Director. 

Assessor Ben Thompson is requesting the city hire an appraiser/personal property specialist to help with those areas. He said state law requires the city to assess all businesses for personal property, which Deputy Mayor Maura Herlihy explained can be anything from office desks to major equipment. Buck is not recommending that position be added to the budget this year.  

Information Systems Director Bill Botting is also requesting the addition of an Assistant Director position, as he will be retiring in four years, and said the city should start planning for that succession. That position is also not being recommended by the City Manager.

Copyright © 2024 - Sanford Springvale News - All rights reserved. | CoverNews by AF themes.