At Millinocket's last council meeting of 8/14/08, our town manager informed the council and the public that we would more than likely be in need of obtaining a Tax Anticipation Note (TAN) to provide the town with the operating cash it will need to see us through until the town begins to see additional revenue in Mid-November when tax payments become due.
The manager further explained that this would be the first time Millinocket has had to resort to this type of financial resource in more than seven years.
The reason given for this sorry state of affairs is that the note would help us offset the erosion of our Undesignated Fund Balance (surplus) which was caused by "over-use" of the fund to balance our 2008-09 budget.
There is a certain logic to this explanation, but my question is - "Why was our $3.5M surplus (UFB) allowed to be eroded to approximately $1.5M?
To begin with, this surplus represents an over-collection of money from the taxpayers of this town, and although I have no problem with the town having a surplus - especially since we all need a cushion to fall back on, in time of need - I do believe that we should have either kept that contingency cushion or returned that money to the people it was taken from, through a lowering of the property tax mil rate. It is now quite apparent that neither of those options occurred.
So now the question is who is to blame for the mess in which the town finds itself? Having attended council meetings for quite some time, I have listened to our auditors caution the town officers to maintain as high an Undesignated Fund Balance as possible - this due to the fact that we rely basically on only one large taxpaying entity. Now I can't help but wonder why did we hire them if we weren't going to take their advice?
If I heard the message, loud and clear, why then didn't our councilors hear it and follow the advice they were given? Instead, the majority chose to spend money as though we had it to spend and the mill would be here long enough for us to recoup.
In addition, most of those who voted in favor of the inflated school budget must also shoulder some of the blame. Most of those who voted never bothered to attend council meetings, so they never heard the warnings. Rather, they bought into the school administration's mantra that this additional money was required for a quality school system and to provide better education for our students, even with our declining enrollment figures. This is not necessarily true, as it cannot be assumed that good results will follow the money.
When all is said and done, as a community, we are now in a very precarious position. We are threatened with a possible shut down of the mill, our major taxpayer. We are facing increased property tax bills in November to support this year's municipal/school budgets. And now we must pick up interest costs for this proposed note (TAN) which have not been included in the current budget figures.
The time is past due to tell our councilors to limit the town budget to the necessities , just like you and I, as individuals, must do. No more extra expenses that keep cropping up. Also tell your school officials to tighten up on their budget. With declining enrollment, there should be little or no need for increases in the school budget. And finally demand that both the town and the school live within the parameters of the current budgets they have requested or reduce them if possible, instead of amending them to accommodate additional expenditures.
Millinocket - wake up. We are in jeopardy of losing our stake in this town and only YOU can stop that from happening.