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  • Tammy L Wells

Higher State Valuations, Inflation, Leads to 7.38 Percent York County Budget Increase

ALFRED, Maine – Inflation and increases in the state government’s valuation of county municipalities has led to a proposed 7.38 percent increase in York County government’s budget and an estimated 9.6 percent increase in municipal assessments for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The proposed budget is $25.16 million, with $21.55 million to be raised through taxes to the 29 municipalities, the latter up by about $1.88 million.

York County Commissioners began their perusal of the proposed budget for the coming year on April 3 and were to continue the process on Wednesday, April 10. If the five-member board takes a vote at that time, then the spending plan moves on to the York County Budget Committee, which will review and also vote on the spending plan.

Overall, the state has increased the value of municipalities across York County by $8 billion, to $54.94 billion, York County Manager Greg Zinser told commissioners. He noted the valuation of Wells increased by $1 billion. Under the budget proposal, Wells would be assessed $2.15 million, up by about $286,000 from the current year. Biddeford’s valuation was set at $4.34 billion by the state, and would be assessed $1.7 million in county tax, up by an estimated. $192,000 from this year. Zinser said he has made the municipalities aware of the proposed increase.

He told commissioners that the cost of wages, benefits and contracted services are up and that revenue projections are down, for the most part in the registry of deeds. Still, there are three months left in the fiscal year, and Zinser said he is hopeful the revenue picture can turn around. Real estate inventory is down, he noted, and there are fewer sales – so fewer deeds recording fees.

York County Registrar of Deeds Nancy Hammond, one of several department heads presenting their budgets on April 3, estimated recording fees are currently off about 6 percent from a year ago and that revenue the office received from its share of the transfer tax – the state gets 90 percent and the counties 10 percent of what they collect – is up less than 1 percent.

“We are looking at a potential shortfall of about $225,000 in revenue,” for the deeds office, she said. Typically, deeds recording fees yield about $1.3 million annually in revenue.

Zinser said investment income is projected to be up slightly in the next fiscal year, by about $20,000, but he has penciled in a $100,000 revenue decrease for the deeds registry and left revenues from other departments at the same rate as this year.

He explained two changes: the Fire Administrator position has been moved to a newly created York County Regional Training Center account as that project moves forward, and the juvenile fire prevention specialist position is now reflected in the York County Emergency Management Agency budget.

Commissioner Donna Ring asked the source of $264,600 in revenues marked as utilization of reserves.

Zinser said that will primarily come from undesignated surplus, which is at $3.1 million and is where it is required to be.

“If we dip into that too much … to buy down the taxes, it compromises the foundation of our finances,” he said. “It is money we typically don’t use.”

He noted the downturn in revenue and an increase in expenses. “I am trying to be as conservative as possible,” he said.

Zinser noted some county departments are being advised not to spend, so as to end the current fiscal year in the black.

As to the proposed budget, Zinser said has found the county’s proposed increases aren’t far off as compared to municipalities with similar-sized budgets.

“It feels good this isn’t out of whack, where we are in the budgeting world today,” he added.

The budget was up about 5.8 percent for the current fiscal year, and the tax to municipalities about five percent, he said in response to a question from Commissioner Justin Chenette.

Commission Chair Richard Dutremble gave an historical view, recalling that starting about 16 years ago, county budget increases were around one percent.

“It’s inflation,” said Dutremble. “We have no control over what inflation is doing to us.”



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