As the town develops its 2022 budget, officials will consider the future of the administration building at George J. Mitchell Field and a new roof for its attached garage. (J.W. OLIVER PHOTO)

Town officials expect increases in labor costs to impact the 2022 budget, which they are beginning to prepare for the annual town meeting in March.

On Nov. 4, Town Administrator Kristi Eiane presented a memo to the Board of Selectmen outlining “new ideas” that could affect the budget.

Those ideas include completing a reconstruction of Basin Point Road that started this summer; saving for renovations to the recycling center building that will start in 2023; replacing the roof of a garage at George J. Mitchell Field; conducting a study of how to reuse the administration building at Mitchell Field; adjusting pay to reflect a competitive labor market; hiring a seasonal monitor for town lands; and divvying up the first half of $519,000 in federal pandemic relief funds.

For town staff, Eiane proposed to apply the Social Security Administration’s 5.9% cost-of-living adjustment as a base increase, with additional adjustments possible after a review of the town’s pay structure.

“This issue’s going to take a little more work, but at least in terms of submitting a preliminary budget to the budget committee, we’d like the Board of Selectmen to be on board with this 5.9% increase,” Eiane said. Board members expressed support.

Rising labor costs will also affect contracts with outside entities like Mid Coast Hospital, which the town pays to keep a paramedic in Harpswell 24/7. “I think we’re looking at a 13% increase,” Eiane said of the Mid Coast contract.

“Many of the entities are dealing with the same issues we are in terms of making sure you can attract and retain good employees, and so pay levels, pay scales are being adjusted,” Eiane said.

Another change in the budget will allow for the expansion of the recreation department’s mission, enabling the director to serve as a liaison to social services.

“We really want to strengthen those partnerships that the town has,” Eiane said, giving the town’s relationship with Harpswell Aging at Home as an example. “We see this as a way of doing that and really trying to meet the needs of our residents.”

The department would have a new name — the department of recreation and community services — and would take over the handling of applications for general assistance and heating assistance.

As part of the change, the town would increase the recreation director’s hours from 35 to 37.5 per week. The department’s programs assistant would continue to work 15 hours per week, but the town may add hours for that position later.

The recreation director, along with the harbor master and three town committees, have recommended that the town hire a seasonal parks monitor.

“We’ve seen a lot of people visiting our public spaces. Some of them are in small neighborhoods. There are parking challenges,” Eiane said. Mitchell Field “has some issues where we could use a little more monitoring on a regular basis.” The monitor would work weekends.

The Mitchell Field committee wants to replace the roof of the administration building’s attached garage, which houses the harbor master’s boat, at an estimated cost of $30,000; and to study options for the reuse of the administration building, which will involve $15,000 in consulting fees.

“To have a public process where the community can weigh in on what it would like to see that building being used for is something we’ve been talking about for a while, but we haven’t actually taken the step,” Eiane said.

When it comes to the federal funds, the American Rescue Plan Act limits their use to five categories, with the intent to address the pandemic’s impacts. Those categories include negative economic impacts and public health.

Eiane’s memo provided a list of priorities for those funds with ballpark estimates: comprehensive planning services, $90,000; chest compression machines for emergency medical services, $36,000; ventilation improvements at the town office, $30,000; a technology consultant and/or website upgrade, $25,000; a consultant to analyze needs and options for workforce housing, $15,000; and consultants for broadband and emergency communications, $10,000 each. Those estimates total $216,000, which leaves $43,000 to allocate.

A grant from the Maine Humanities Council supports the Harpswell Anchor’s reporting on town government.

The memo begins at 33:00 in the video below: