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Fort Fairfield Town Council Discusses Budget at May Meeting; Budget Deficit Reduced to $472,126


By:  David Deschesne

Fort Fairfield Journal, June 2, 2021

   The updated proposed Fort Fairfield budget for FY 21-22 has closed in on the budget shortfall by over half a million dollars, but there’s still a long way to go.

   The budget short-fall as of the second budget hearing on May 5, 2020 was $1.05 million.  After increased projections in income revenue and a reduction of projected local school expenses, the budget deficit has been reduced to $472,126.

   The school was the only line item in the proposed budget to drop, being reduced by $101,099 to a total of 2,142,385.   No other expense items have been reduced as of this writing.

  On the income side, the projected income from state revenue sharing increased by $134,645 to bring that total projected total up to $863,003.  Also, the town is expecting to receive some American Rescue Plan Act money in the amount of $346,927. This brings total projected revenues to $6,559,048 to pay for a $7,031,174 budget.

    An ad hoc group called Taxpayers Group of Fort Fairfield presented a list of request to the town manager and council which was addressed during the May 19, 2021 town council meeting (see that list on page six of this edition of Fort Fairfield Journal).

   However, some people have expressed some discontent at the blanket label of “Taxpayers Group of Fort Fairfield” without identifying who all the members of the group are.  Darren Condon spoke during the May 19 town council meeting public comment period regarding this designation.  “I am a taxpayer, also, of this town.  The only concern that concerns me and a few other people that I've talked to is this paper right here that Mr. Ouellette and his wife have put out.  I agree with some of this but you put 'the taxpayers request.'  I'm a taxpayer.  No one come to my house, or nothing, and asked me to cut this, cut that, whatever.  If you're going to assume and start saying 'taxpayers' then I feel you need to start putting people's names, phone numbers and addresses on the paper so we know who is actually talking about this.”

   Local businessman, Jeff Armstrong then rose to speak.  “We're all taxpayers and I understand your concerned about everybody. But if this proposed budget is passed, it's going to affect every taxpayer including [Mr. Condon],” said Armstrong.  “I personally have had my accountant look at this proposal and within seconds after he looked at it he said why is this even being proposed?  It's not balanced.  The State of Maine requires that any city or town tax proposal has to be balanced.  It has to match what's coming in and going out.  We're off over a million dollars.  That's against the Maine law.  Mr. Chairman, I address this to you.  This concerns you very, very much.  If this is approved, you will be breaking a Maine civil and criminal law.  You should be very very aware of that.  Since you're the chairperson, this is going to come back to you if this is approved.  So, make note of that.”

   Later in the council meeting, town manager, Andrea Powers acknowledged the balanced budget law and stated the town’s budget isn’t balanced until June 30 after the auditor completes their work.

   Armstrong also recognized the work put forth by the Taxpayers Group of Fort Fairfield.  “There's been a lot of time and effort to put this letter together, requests, concerns and comments.  I value the effort of Jim and Sharon Ouellette doing so.  There's some items that aren't on there.  We must understand that there's two sides of a coin here.  The first one is obvious, that there are gaps in the spending in Fort Fairfield.  The proposed budget is not balanced.  One item, for example, the expenditures I don't see where they're being expended, there's gaps in the expenditures.  The fire department, why is the fire department Fort Fairfield's proposed budget more than Presque Isle's?  I don't understand that.  That is something we've got to really look at.  The other side of the coin is - other than the proposed tax budget - is the revaluation on land and property, which I brought up just in regards to land.  I have addressed the council twice, once in January and once in March, and I haven't got a response.  Maybe I didn't make it formal.  But, just reviewing four properties - my property and three other properties in land alone, there's no consistency.  My land value went up, I believe, 213%; my neighbor's went down 3%; my other neighbor's went up 100% another neighbor's went up 140 something percent.  It's like a shotgun effect occurred.  It wasn't done just and fair.  My understanding as far as evaluations, whether it's land or property, and we'll pick land for example.  You have residential property, you have commercial property, you have agricultural tillable and non-tillable; you have wetland, you might have hazard areas.  Any town or city should have a value of what an acre of what that particular type of land is. That being the case, it should have been very easy to evaluate land consistent and fair based upon an XL spreadsheet by just plugging in numbers.  It must have been an effort to re-evaluate land in the four properties that I mentioned and it could have been done very simply.  So, that being said, council members, I urged you not to pass this proposed budget because it is way out of whack.  And unless you can give me some answers and give the taxpayers some answers on where the money's going, and how you justify the means, someone's going to be in trouble.”

   Dana Morrow then spoke during the public comment period.  “I've traveled the last thirty years, but I maintain a residence here. I think we've got a pretty nice town, but I think we're headed toward bankruptcy.  We're spending way beyond our means.  Again, why is Presque Isle's budget $200,000 less.  What will our mil rate be next year?  Are you going to ask for another million for the next budget?  And this just keeps going on and on.  A few people made a major decision and now we're all paying the consequences.  I don't understand the hiring mentality when a town manager's hired.  I feel the town manager has to manage the money, of course she works off the town council but you gotta make the money work.  Like I said, over a million dollars for this current, coming up budget and then you're going to keep asking for more and more and more.  I mean, there aren't a whole lot of people that live here.  New businesses will not locate here and I would tell them not to.  They're going to pick up the brunt of the taxes.  As far as the evaluation, I would tell farmers to ask what their valuation was on their tillable acres because I'm sure it's not accurate - mine wasn't.  I don't own a lot of land, but it still wasn't accurate.

   A third public budget hearing meeting is scheduled for June 3, 6pm at the Fort Fairfield Community Center gym.  This will likely be the last public hearing on the budget before the town council votes on the budget at their June meeting.




To:  Town Council of Fort Fairfield                    

       May 19, 2021


Councilman Mitchell Butler, chair

Councilman Rev. Mark Babin

Councilwoman Melissa Libby

Councilman Robert Kilcollins

Councilman Scott Smith


   The taxpayers wish to thank the Town Council for all their efforts and the time spent in addressing the current budget concerns.  We also wish to thank Mrs. Powers for her efforts as she works to provide the Council with all the information and data that they need to be able to revise and approve this budget.  The new budget should provide our community with essential services in the most cost-efficient manner that will be affordable and fair to our townspeople.

   The Council needs our support and assistance now more than ever as they face the enormous task of reconciling the large discrepancies in this budget and bringing it to a balance.  Each one of them is here as a volunteer and donates their time and energy in service to our Community.  They are here because of their good judgment skills, common sense, strong ethical beliefs, and wanting to do the right thing for our townspeople.  We understand they are not here as experts in statistical analysts or business management.  They hire people with these skills as needed.

   We as citizens need to step up, leave the complaining and bad blood at the door, and ask the difficult questions that are necessary to obtain correct, accurate information that our Council members need to do their jobs.  We appreciate the efforts to answer some of our questions at the Hearing, and for the many more questions from our list that are scheduled to be answered here today.

   We can all agree that the 32% increase in property taxes that this Proposed Budget would require if passed, is unacceptable.  This would be in addition to the large increase in property taxes from this past year, due largely to the 22% increase in spending and roughly $500,000 in lost revenues from the closing of the energy plant.  Below is a summary of requests that are being made by citizens for this Budget to be fair and acceptable to taxpayers.  





The Council rejects the proposed increase of $13,779 and further reduces this budget as necessary.



The Council rejects the proposed increase of $292,041 and further reduces this budget as necessary.



The Council rejects the proposed increase of $23,738 and further reduces this budget as necessary.



The Council not increase any of the Reserve Accounts for this year and removes the $180,900 increase from the proposed Budget.  Total Reserves are already at nearly $1 million. 



The Council rejects the new proposed increase in property taxes and keeps the Property Tax amount flat at $3,657,906 or less if at all possible.



The Council includes the American Rescue Plan Act, disbursement allocation of $327,508 as a new line item in the REVENUES section of this Budget and designates that this be used as a one time Property Tax Relief.

It is reported that, “States also may not use their ARPA funds to either directly or indirectly offset a reduction in the net tax revenue...or delay the imposition of any tax or tax increase.  Local governments are not bound by the same restriction, so temporary relief to property taxpayers can, and should be on the table for local officials.” -Maine Policy Institute, April 2, 2021.



The Council includes any other anticipated sources of income as line items in the REVENUES section of this Budget in order to have a more complete, accurate list of anticipated Revenues that they will need in order to balance this Budget.


Requests from the Taxpayers were compiled by Taxpayers Group of Fort Fairfield Group contact Jim & Sharon Ouellette   207-476-5460