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Council OKs Budget Adjustments: PAYT Bags to Increase to $16

City Manager Steve Buck (at podium)

City Manager Steve Buck (at podium) details his recommended budget amendments.

Source: WSSR-TV

By Zendelle Bouchard

City Manager Steve Buck presented his recommended municipal budget for fiscal year 2024/25 to the City Council on March 19, 2024, after which Council members debated and approved several adjustments. One adjustment to the revenue side of the budget would increase the price of the orange Pay-As-You-Throw trash bags from $14.50 to $16 per package.

Deputy Mayor Maura Herlihy noted that other area communities charge much more than $16 for their municipal trash bags. Councilor Bob Stackpole said he had hoped to keep the price the same for five years after the last increase, but the cost of waste disposal and hauling is expected to rise significantly in the new contract under negotiation.

Councilor Jonathan Martell spoke against any price increase, saying he would prefer to look for cuts elsewhere in the budget. Stackpole argued that the PAYT bags provide an equitable means of paying for the costs associated with solid waste, as each homeowner only pays for the bags they use. If the PAYT program was eliminated, taxes would go up substantially, he said. Mayor Becky Brink added that the orange bags encourage recycling, which saves the city considerable money on waste disposal. “People won’t recycle,” without them, she said.

Martell said people find the bags annoying and would prefer to pay higher property taxes to get rid of them. Councilor Pete Tranchemontagne said he “hated” the PAYT bags until he was appointed to the Solid Waste Subcommittee and learned how the program really works to save money for taxpayers. The Council voted 6-1 to approve the increase, with Martell in opposition.

The Council unanimously approved adding another $350,000 to the line item for General Assistance. Buck explained that asylum seekers have begun to flow into Sanford again, so he doesn’t feel his original projection of $600,000 will be adequate. But he added that the reimbursement from the state for these expenses is expected to increase substantially as well. The state currently reimburses municipalities for 70% of GA payments, but the supplemental budget under consideration by the state legislature would raise that to as much as 90%. He expects to know the final percentage in early April, before the Council votes on the budget as a whole.

The Council unanimously approved eliminating the Community Development Director (CDD) position from the budget, and adding an Assistant City Manager position, with a net increase of $17,857 in expenses. The Council supports Buck’s view that an Assistant City Manager could cover for the City Manager when necessary, while also fulfilling the duties of the CDD. Ian Houseal, who has held the CDD position for seven years, opposes the change on the grounds that the CDD is a full-time job in itself. He expressed concern that the city would be at risk of greater liability without the position.

The Council declined to fund a second mental health clinician to work with the Sanford Police Department’s Mental Health Unit, although there seems to be consensus that the position is needed. Buck said the position can be added later if grant funds to cover the cost of salary and benefits are secured.

The new Community Paramedic position that has been on the table for months got the green light from the Council. Grant money has already been approved to cover the costs associated with the position, which will be part of the Sanford Fire Department. The city will be able to bill Medicare and other insurance companies for visits by the Community Paramedic. Buck said if the funding works as well as he expects, the city may be able to add a second CP in the future.

The SPD has agreed to discontinue its Nighthawk LEOVision system which allows detectives to take large amounts of data and condense it to a more usable form for review. The new digital fingerprinting system that they had requested is also off, for this year at least. Those two cuts took over $31,000 out of the budget.

The Council also considered cutting the new garage lifts that were requested by the Public Works Department. However, after learning that the outside garage the city formerly used to do repairs on smaller vehicles was no longer in business, they put off making the decision for now.

During the public hearing held later in the evening, several Sanford School Department employees and two parents of Sanford students spoke to urge the Council not to cut the school budget so much that counseling and social worker positions would be eliminated. One resident spoke in favor of school budget cuts, arguing that the schools are headed in the direction of providing one-on-one instruction for every student.

The Council will meet again March 26 to work further on the budget. A final vote is scheduled for April 2.

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