PRESENT: Chairman Friedman, Councilor Hogan, Councilor Cheney, Councilor Perkins and Councilor Champaco; Town Manager B. Reed, Budget Committee Members Scott Humphrey, David King, Suzanne Hart and Joan Perkins; Assistant Clerk K. Humphrey, Police Chief Mark Leonard, Fire Chief Gerry Martin, Assistant Fire Chief Carl Tenney, CEO Allan Thomas, Office Administrator Julie Reed, Captain Pete Metcalf, Firefighter Nick Sirois, Intern Maggie Hanna, Bangor Daily News Reporter Aimee Dolloff and Scott Luciano, President of the Orono Firefighters Assocation.
ITEM 1. The August 23, 2004 Veazie Town Council was called to order at 7:00 PM.
ITEM 2. Consideration of minutes: Motion By: Councilor Hogan—to accept the August 9, 2004 minutes as written. Seconded: Councilor Champaco, Voted 4-0-1 in favor. Councilor Cheney abstained due to her absence.
ITEM 3. Consideration of the Agenda:
Manager Reed stated that he had a handout regarding the ongoing legal matter with the Jones property. He gave it to the Council to look over and they will discuss it at their next meeting. Chairman Friedman stated that the item will go under item 4d: Legal Updates.
ITEM 4a. Tax Cap Seminar Overview
Manager Reed quickly went over all of the tax cap handouts included the Councilor’s packets. He also had a presentation prepared to show the Council and Budget Committee.
The basic premises of the tax cap includes rolling back property values to April, 1, 1996 values, limiting the property tax rate to 10 mils plus the cost of allowable debt, limiting the increase in value of property to 2% per year and limiting the value of property to the original value (plus 2%) unless it is sold. Manager Reed explained that allowable debt is any voter approved debt prior to July 1, 1999 that is for the acquisition or improvement of real or personal property. After that date, debt that is approved by voters by 2/3 majority by ballot in a general election is an exception to the limitation. He outlined that the school bonding package for Veazie would be allowed.
Two opinions have been issued on the tax cap by the Maine Attorney General and the Maine Supreme Court. The Attorney General’s opinion outlined that the ‘roll back’ provision does not appear to be constitutional nor does the ‘freezing’ of values. The Law Court’s opinion agreed but did not comment on severability like the Attorney General.
Manager Reed outlined the budget impacts for Veazie. In 1997 Veazie’s community value was only $86,278,500 which would only raise $862,780 in property taxes with a mil rate of 10 mils. Veazie’s community value this current fiscal year is $248,690,728 which would raise $2,486,907 in property taxes. Currently the Town raises $4,181,605 in property taxes with its current mil rate of 17 mils. Manager Reed outlined that the Town’s tax loss would be between $1,107,787 and $1,238,588. There would be roughly a 30% cut in all budgets.
The estimated statewide impact would include 192 (39%) communities with little or no impact. Manager Reed outlined that Maine does not have a surplus to fall back on like California did when Proposition 13 passed. California had a $5 billion surplus to help alleviate some of the shortfalls.
Manager Reed stated that there are 9 weeks left until the election and he is looking for some direction from the Council on what the Town’s role should be on informing the citizens.
Chairman Friedman stated that print, radio and television have not done a good job of getting information out on the tax cap. Manager Reed outlined that a lot of people do not make decisions until September. Maine Municipal Association is not going to pay for anything until after September. Manager Reed stated that the poll was running at 65% in favor, however the number is lower but the undecided are breaking evenly between favoring it and opposing.
Councilor Perkins stated that the timing is really bad on this issue due to residents just receiving their bills and being angry because their property tax has gone up. He outlined that there are a lot of older people who do not have children in school and they will be looking out for themselves.
Councilor Cheney asked how businesses like Duke Energy are impacted with the increase in assessed value. Assessor Allan Thomas stated that Duke Energy had virtually no impact because of the TIF. Other businesses like Gagne and American Concrete had less then a 5% value increase. The tax burden has shifted from businesses to residences.
Manager Reed stated that also included in the Councilor’s packets was a resolution. Maine Municipal Association was really promoting this to municipalities to adopt. Manager Reed asked if the Council wanted to take action on it alone or whether they wanted to wait until the next Council meeting on September 20th when they will be meeting with the School Committee to discuss it.
Councilor Hogan stated that he felt the Council should look for strong input from the school on how to deal with the tax cap issue. He also asked Manager Reed if the State intended to fund 55% of education. Manager Reed stated that they want to gradually get up to 55% over a period of time.
Chairman Friedman stated that he would like to see the Council get together with the School Committee and come up with some ideas and also invite the Budget Committee.
Councilor Champaco inquired whether property tax rate was synonymous with mil rate. Manager Reed explained that the mil rate is what the Town thinks the rate is. Property tax rate is what the State says it is.
ITEM 4b. Discussion on Voluntary Recognition of Union
Scott Luciano, President of the Orono Firefighters Association, stated that he was approached by Captain Pete Metcalf who was a former member of IAFF (International Association of Fire Fighters). Captain Metcalf wanted to get involved in the organization because of the services it provides. Scott Luciano outlined some of the activities which included Christmas for kids, scholarships for high schools and educating the public on the Palasky Tax Cap. There are also a lot of retirement options in the IAFF. Scott Luciano outlined that Captain Metcalf contacted Orono because they needed a minimum of three firefighters to form their own union and they only had two.
Councilor Cheney inquired whether the union was just for full-time firefighters. Manager Reed stated that it was.
Councilor Perkins asked about bargaining, whether the Town will bargain with just the two firefighters or with Orono as well. Scott Luciano stated that a separate bargaining unit has been established for Veazie.
ITEM 4c. Organizational Structure Discussion
Manager Reed outlined that he met with Police Chief Mark Leonard and Fire Chief Gerry Martin regarding the proposed revision on the organizational flowchart. The revision includes adding the position of Public Safety Director and having the Technical Data Assistant, who is currently utilized by the Police Department, shared by the two departments. This would eliminate fire personnel spending time doing data input.
Manager Reed stated that he was looking for direction on this issue from the Council. He outlined that an evaluation could be done and a detailed restructuring plan would be completed to see if there would be a cost savings. Chairman Friedman stated that it only makes sense for full-time people to supervise full-time people. He outlined that he would like to pursue the Public Safety Director position.
Councilor Perkins outlined his concerns on the cost of adding a new position. Manager Reed stated that it would be management restructuring not adding a new person. He outlined that the Police Chief would become the Public Safety Director but still serve as Police Chief and the Town would still have a part-time Fire Chief and Assistant Fire Chief.
Councilor Champaco outlined that in the current flowchart there is an Administrative Assistant but in the proposed flowchart it has been changed to Communications Coordinator. Manager Reed outlined that the position was changed last year and the chart was in error. Councilor Champaco inquired what special projects were. Manager Reed gave the Town’s current intern as one example. Maggie Hanna is an intern through the University of Maine and has been working on the river restoration project with Eastern Maine Development Corporation and area communities under a Community Development Block Grant.
Councilor Friedman asked the Council what their wishes were regarding this position. Councilor Perkins stated that he was okay with pursuing it as long as it doesn’t cost additional money. Councilor Champaco agreed with Councilor Perkins.
Budget Committee Member Joan Perkins asked if the Town would replace the Police Chief with a full-time Police Chief if he became the Public Safety Director. Manager Reed said no.
Fire Chief Gerry Martin stated that there are other departments that have full-time firefighters and a part-time chief. He stated that either he or Assistant Chief Tenney can be reached at all times and when both of them are going to be out of Town the Town Manager takes over. He outlined that the current full-time firefighters are capable of making decisions.
Assistant Chief Tenney outlined that a couple years ago the Town had visited the idea of a Public Safety Director. There were concerns with the chain of command and the job description. It appeared as though there was no potential for a firefighter to work his/her way up to the position of Public Safety Director.
Chairman Friedman stated that when the Fire Chief and Assistant Chief are out of town, issues or conflicts in the department should not fall back on the Town Manager or the Council. He outlined that he was not diminishing their efforts in fact he was proud of the department and the great job they have done to date.
Councilor Cheney asked if there was a disaster in Town, would the Public Safety Director coordinate the efforts. Manager Reed stated that if there was a fire the Fire Chief would be in charge and if it involved police issues the Police Chief would be in charge. A major disaster would include VEMA which includes all department heads.
ITEM 4d. Legal Updates
Manager Reed outlined that a few laws have changed in regards to holding executive sessions and public records copying. Now when the Council goes into executive session they need to specify what the legal matter is and outline the State statue. In regards to public records copying the Town can only charge no more than $10 per hour after the first hour.
Manager Reed outlined that he received a letter from Paine, Lynch & Harris, P.A. and a proposed agreement regarding the Jones property. This was for the Council to look over and the item will be discussed at the next Council meeting on September 20th.
ITEM 5a. Water Project Update
Manager Reed outlined that at the last meeting he had reported that the Town had asked Barney Silver to complete the Route 2 project before commencing the water project. It had rained all last week so they are behind. He will be moving forward as soon as Route 2 is finished. Manager Reed outlined that he had received quite a few calls on the Route 2 and although the issue was a State and Sewer District related issue the Town wanted to get it taken care of.
ITEM 6. Public Comments: There were no comments from the public.
ITEM 7. Manager’s Report:
a. The Council reviewed a copy a Bangor Daily News editorial written by Veazie residents. Also included as a copy of the Town’s reply to the residents’ issues that were outlined in the editorial.
b. The Council reviewed a copy of a letter from two additional residents with concerns about their tax bills. Also included was a copy of the Town’s response.
c. The Council reviewed a copy of the Police Department’s quarterly report.
d. The Council reviewed a copy of a budgetary report and tax status from Deputy Treasurer Julie Reed.
Manager Reed stated that he also spoke with the Town’s auditor and she was very pleased with the audit. This was the fastest she has been able to do the testing and she will be able to get the report done a month earlier.
ITEM 8. Requests for Information/Council Comments:
Councilor Cheney inquired on the backhoe payment in the Town warrant and whether it was a lease. Manager Reed stated that it was a lease purchase and this was the last payment to be made and the Town now owns it.
Councilor Cheney also inquired on an abatement check in the Town warrant. Deputy Tax Collector Julie Reed stated that the residents had already paid their taxes in full before receiving the abatement. Therefore the Town needed to issue them a check for the amount of the abatement.
ITEM 9. Warrants: Town Warrant 4, 4A, 4B & 4C Town Payroll Warrant 4, School Warrant 4 and School Payroll Warrant 4 were circulated and signed.
ITEM 10. Adjournment: Motion: Councilor Cheney—to adjourn the August 23, 2004 Town Council Meeting. Seconded: Councilor Hogan—there was no further discussion. Voted 4-0, Meeting adjourned at 8:40 p.m.