Lebanon Spending Proposal Up 21%

Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Lebanon — City officials are requesting a 21 percent increase in next year’s municipal budget, with most of the additional money going to capital improvements, such as the ongoing combined sewer overflow project.

Interim City Manager Paula Maville presented a $67.1 million proposed 2018 budget to the City Council last week, an $11.8 million spending increase from the current $55.3 million budget.

“The biggest increases in the budget this year are the capital improvement program,” Maville said during an interview Monday, referring to the portion of the budget devoted to infrastructure and equipment spending.

The city administration is proposing $20.2 million in capital improvements in 2018, more than $8 million above the current year’s budget.

Several of the capital projects are scheduled to begin next year, she said, as well as continued work on the combined sewer overflow project, a $69 million effort to separate sewer and stormwater in roughly 15 miles of Lebanon’s sewer system.

The $8.2 million slated for CSO projects would make up “the biggest chunk” of funds devoted in a single year to the effort, Maville said.

The capital improvements budget also includes 20 other projects, including five that are ongoing. About $11.9 million is proposed to continue those projects, which include improvements to the Mascoma Street bridge and replacement of the former rail tunnel in downtown Lebanon, which is currently blocked off to pedestrians but could prove to be a key link for the Mascoma River Greenway connecting Lebanon and West Lebanon.

The city also proposes setting aside $4.1 million for a gas-to-energy project and compactor replacement at the landfill. Five multiyear projects would also begin next year, including upgrades to Lebanon’s water treatment facility, street rehabilitation and infrastructure work at the airport.

The increase in capital improvements will likely be scrutinized by several city councilors as they work this week to amend the budget. Mayor Sue Prentiss called the proposed spending a “significant jump” on Monday.

Prentiss said she understands the need for infrastructure spending but said she was concerned by the additional money being requested.

“For me, it’s going to be about capital improvements,” she said.

Councilor Karen Liot Hill also pointed to the CSO as a “long-term drag” on the budget, and added the capital improvements plan is an area where the City Council “will need to spend some more attention.”

“When you look at the budget overall, it is a significant increase,” she said. Liot Hill said she also intends to keep an eye on the airport budget, which continues to run a deficit.

In 2017, the city invested $2.4 million from the general fund there, but it’s estimated those expenses will fall $300,000 short. About $340,000 is budgeted from the general fund for airport expenses in 2018.

Although the spending plan could increase 21 percent, property taxes would not rise by a like amount. About $22 million would be raised by taxes, an increase of $608,000. Another $13.7 million would be raised in fees, while $8.3 million would be provided through transferring money from existing funds, according to the budget proposal.

If the City Council were to approve Maville’s budget proposal without changes, the city estimates a 27 cent increase in the tax rate to $10.97 per $1,000 of a property’s assessed value. That would amount to a 2018 tax bill of $2,742 for a single-family home valued at $250,000, an increase of $67.

The budget also proposes bonding roughly $11.4 million and raising $4 million through other government organizations.

Both Prentiss and Liot Hill applauded the city administration for keeping the estimated tax rate increase within 2.5 percent. The operating budget would also increase by a relatively small margin under the plan, the two said.

The city is proposing to spend $32.2 million in operations and maintenance in 2018, up about $751,000, or 2.4 percent, with slight staffing changes.

Two firefighters will be hired with the help of a federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, grant, Maville said. A part-time position will also be created to assist the workload of the Human Services Department, she said.

Lebanon is also expected to pay about $7.5 million toward its debt service next year, an increase of $216,000 the city estimates will likely continue to rise.

Long-term debt payments are projected to increase to $11.7 million by 2020, partially due to the CSO, with nearly half of that amount being supported through property taxes.

“The city’s reserves are strong; efforts to manage and reduce debt remain in place,” Maville wrote in the proposal. “There are challenges ahead.”

The City Council is scheduled to hold several work sessions over the next week to refine the budget proposal, which it would then vote on after a public hearing on Dec. 20.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.