Camden residents hear first reading of FY 2014 municipal budget and council members weigh new contract for town's deputy police chief

Camden residents will see a surplus in their budget's general fund revenue for 2013 and 2014, but as of now town council members have not talked about cutting taxes or sending some of that surplus back to residents' bank accounts.

That's because the numbers still are not finalized and won't be – at least for the 2013 fiscal year – until the end of June, said town finance officer Patrick Cullen.

Town council held the first reading of Camden's Fiscal Year 2014 general fund budget during its Monday night meeting. Cullen told council members he expects a surplus of approximately $90,000 to be in the town's accounts by the June 30 target date.

For Fiscal Year 2014, he projects revenue of approximately $2.07 million, with an outlay of $1.9 million, leaving a surplus of approximately $174,000. Those figures represent only the general fund, which is paid through taxes and fees levied on town residents, Cullen said. It does not include other sources of income, such as grants. Grant money is primarily used for the town's real estate and street light funds and for police activities, he said.

Much of 2013's income came from one-time sources, such as taxes and fees connected with construction of the new Redner's Supermarket Warehouse; additional one-time resources will include monies collected due the new CNB Bank building and Cheddar's restaurant, which opened earlier on Monday.

Council spent considerable time discussing one item sure to affect the budget: Camden's police force. Several council members, Vice Mayor Justin King in particular, felt the time had come not to renew the employment contract for the town's deputy police chief, Capt. Gary Melvin. Savings from that action could be spent on hiring new officers, thus boosting the number of police on the streets.

Melvin's contract expires at the end of June.

"That position is redundant," King said. "I think [Police Chief William Bryson] is capable of continuing on, with assistance. We can use that money to get one or two more officers on the road."

With the current shift schedule, and because budget troubles several years ago forced the town to lay off four street officers, there is only one patrolman working the town neighborhoods and businesses during each shift, King said.

Town Mayor W.G. Edmanson said the deputy chief had declined an offer of a six-month contract that would have taken him up to January at his current pay level. The budget situation is complicated by the fact the salary for one town officer currently is paid by a grant, which will expire at the end of the year, requiring to city to pick up the full cost of his employment.

Council members ultimately decided to hold off on any decision until the town's 2014 budget is finalized.

The package Cullen had presented Monday night was a tentative one, made without input from town department heads or the citizenry, Edmanson noted. He wanted to wait until those persons had a chance to make a more thorough examination of the spending plan.

In other actions, council approved a new three-year contract for its current waste management company, Republic Services. The new contract reduces trash collection fees by $3 a month, resulting in an annual $36 savings for town customers.

The contract has two one-year extensions built into it, said Town Manager L. Aaron Chaffinch.

Council members also held a protracted discussion about efforts to keep grass cut in several areas of the town. Currently Camden residents are paying town grounds maintenance employees to cut grass in several open areas, including a swath of land in the Tamarac development.

The city has spent more than $27,000 to keep that area presentable, but has been unable to collect back the costs because of uncertainty about who actually owns the land.

Town solicitor Craig Eliassen said he found a 1974 deed that established a homeowner's association that is responsible for upkeep of open spaces in the development. However, he said, that group appears to be inactive.

Eliassen noted that under the terms of the almost 40-year-old deed, Tamarac residents could be billed for prior costs and held responsible for future maintenance of the land.

"That probably wouldn't be a very popular thing to do, but it's one way we could address the problem," he said.

Town residents will have the chance to help shape Camden's municipal budget during a planned May 13 workshop. Copies of the budget will be made available online that morning. Any adjustments suggested by the citizenry and town department managers will be taken up at council's next meeting, scheduled for Monday, June 3.

The council must finalize the town budget by June 30.