News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, January 10, 2013
Few surprises in Stonington’s early budget work

by Alice Wilkinson

The January 7 Stonington Selectmen’s meeting marked the beginning of the town meeting process, when the budget must be created, printed and ready for the voters.

The selectmen are working on a preliminary budget.

One question facing the selectmen is whether the state takes the excise tax the town collects. That money, about $200,000, covers approximately 20 percent of the town’s annual operating expenses. Town Manager Kathleen Billings-Pezaris passed around a copy of a letter and survey the town received from the Maine Municipal Association that she had mentioned at the January 3 meeting. Briefly, the letter asserts that Governor LePage would like to add that money to the state’s budget.

Attached to the letter was a survey for the town to fill out, in support of leaving the money with the town. Billings-Pezaris said that one unacceptable alternative is that the state will give the town Route 15 as it passes through Stonington. That would mean that the town, which currently is paid by the state for plowing it, would lose that money in addition to being responsible for maintaining the road. Billings-Pezaris said the town couldn’t afford it.

Currently, the budget is being planned without assuming the loss of the $200,000. The board discussed whether the Chamber of Commerce, which recently sent out an email announcing that it would no longer do the lighthouse weekend, the lupine festival and the food festival, is worth the $600 the town currently pays it. Selectman Chris Betts said that it might be better just to add the $600 to the fireworks as “it all goes up in smoke anyway.”

Although the town has no animal control officer, despite advertising for one, the budget line remains. The position is one mandated by the state.

Another question had to do with Head Start, operated by Child and Family Opportunities. CFO requested $1,400, the same amount it got last year. Since then, Head Start has moved up to the elementary school, and it no longer has a building to maintain. The selectmen weren’t opposed to the amount, but they did ask Billings-Pezaris to find out where the money is going.

One number which did go up is health insurance. The employees pay 40 percent of the cost; the town pays 60 percent. This year the budgeted amount is up from $33,000 to $44,500. Three of the five staff covered have families; the other two are single. Enrollment is voluntary.

The board will continue to work on the budget at its meetings for the next several weeks. It will next meet on Monday, January 14, at 7 p.m. at the town hall.