On Jan. 13, Boothbay Selectman Steve Lewis was pleasantly surprised with the initial draft of the 2021 municipal budget showing a 0.21 increase. Town Manager Dan Bryer presented the plan during the board meeting. The plan called for small increases to buildings and grounds and Boothbay Common maintenance accounts. Those spending increases are offset by an estimated $12,500 savings in street light electricity expenses. “To bring in a budget under 1% in this day and age, I commend you, and that makes our decision to hire you look like geniuses,” Lewis said.
Bryer’s budget did not include a pay raise for the fire department. Fire Chief Dick Spofford requested the department’s first pay increase since 2017. The chief requested an increase from $13.30 to $15.30 per hour. As budget discussions continue, the rate may increase to $17. Lewis believed with a likely federal minimum wage increase to pass this year, firemen should receive an even bigger increase. “I applaud Dickie for bringing this to our attention. We have one of the best departments in the state and need to show our appreciation for their dedication. I don’t think any taxpayers would be upset if we paid (firefighters) $17 per hour,” he said.
Selectmen will consider non-profit groups’ budget requests in future meetings. In past years, selectmen advised nonprofits not to attend meetings if not seeking an increase. Three groups are seeking more funding: Boothbay Region Ambulance Service, Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library and Boothbay Region Community Resource Council. BRAS requested $343,240, which is $47,588 more. BHML requested $65,000, a $9,500 increase, and BRCRC requested $7,500, which is $1,500 more.
Library Executive Director Joanna Breen attended the selectmen’s meeting via Zoom conference. She reported the requested increase would be used for a larger employee health care stipend. The library offers a health care stipend instead of insurance. A stipend increase would assist employees who purchase federal insurance through the Affordable Care Act. “My rationale is health insurance is very expensive and our employees can get a better plan from the state,” Breen said.
Bryer plans on scheduling these groups for a Zoom conference either on Jan. 27 or Feb. 10. There are also two requests from groups who did not ask for funding last year. Lincoln County Dental requested $3,000 and Hallowell Community Band asked for $800. One nonprofit requested less money for 2021. Boothbay Region Cemetery Association requested $15,000, which is $4,000 less than 2020.
In other action, selectmen discussed the best use for Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district funds. A couple years ago, an attempt to use TIF funds for the Clifford Park project was denied by the state. Department of Economic Development denied their request based on TIF rules preventing use for parks. Selectmen want Bryer to contact the DECD for clarification on TIF funds’ use. One future Boothbay TIF project may be providing water and sewer to the Industrial Park. “When I was elected 12 years, we talked about this, and we’re still talking, and nothing’s happened. Before I leave office I’d like to explore this and see what it would cost,” Lewis said.
Selectmen considered revising a completed study examining Industrial Park water and sewer expansion engineering costs and possibly submitting it for voter approval.
Selectmen meet next at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 27 via Zoom conference.