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Stockholm board to review highway department spending

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WINTHROP — Stockholm officials are looking for ways to address an aging highway department fleet without raising the town tax rate significantly.

Stockholm bookkeeper Arthur Sweeney said initial plans for the 2014 budget call for the tax rate to remain stable, with the rate for the combined highway and general funds increasing a penny to $3.68 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The budget calls for appropriations of $565,820 for the general fund and $949,200 for the highway fund, but Highway Superintendent Jeff P. Russell said his department needs more. Mr. Russell said he had shared his concerns with Town Supervisor Clark S. Decker. “It’s not high enough,” the highway superintendent said.

Mr. Decker said he understood the concern. “Looking at the total value of the Highway Department equipment, we came up $1.2 million. If we had a 10-year rotation, we would need to put $120,000 a year in that line item to roll over and replace our equipment. He went five to six years when nothing was purchased. The fleet is aging out. We need to find a way to maintain our fleet without swamping the taxpayers,” Mr. Decker said.

Mr. Russell said the current trucks in the fleet are from model years 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2007. “We should be working on (getting) a new truck. That’s close to $200,000,” the highway superintendent said.

Mr. Decker said the initial spending plan has $20,000 in the Highway Department equipment line. He said it would take a considerable tax increase to raise that line to $120,000. “You would be looking at a 30 percent increase,” he noted.

“That’s quite a difference. How much can we do?” Councilman Robert J. McCuin said.

A 30 percent tax hike would mean an increase of $110 above the current bill for the town’s highway and general funds for a property assessed at $100,000 at full value. Taxes for that property would climb from $367 in January 2013 to $477 in January 2014.

Mr. Russell said the Highway Department took steps in recent years to bring money into the town’s coffers. “We’re doing about all the extra work we can do,” he said.

The town supervisor concurred with Mr. Russell’s assessment. “Two years ago, we balanced the highway budget by taking back county roads. Last year, health insurance changes for our Highway Department employees saved us $30,000. We are at the point where we can’t look at generating more revenue. We have $95,000 in revenues for plowing county roads and mowing county roadsides, and we are still short,” he said.

Mr. Sweeney indicated he would review the spending plan to look for other potential sources of income to move to the equipment line before the board meets again in September.

“We’ve don’t have to adopt this tonight, but we’ve got some homework to do,” Mr. Decker told his fellow board members this week.

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