AUGUSTA — School officials and their proposed $27.56 million budget, which would increase property taxes by about 5 percent, face questioning tonight from city councilors.

Together with the city’s share of the combined $52.6 million city and school budget, local property owners would see their taxes increase by an estimated 6.6 percent.

But city councilors still have more than a month’s worth of budget workshops to go. In recent years, councilors have directed the school board to go back and make deeper cuts to the school budget they approved and submitted to the council.

Councilors have the final say on the combined municipal and school budget spending. The school budget must also be approved by voters in a budget validation referendum in June.

School administrators and school board members are set to pitch their budget proposal to councilors at their meeting tonight, which begins with a regular council business meeting at 6:30 p.m., followed by the budget workshop. The meeting is in council chambers at Augusta City Center.

School officials may have some supporters behind them — teachers and other staff members represented by the union local Augusta Education Association. The association’s members are currently without a contract and in negotiations with the school board.

Jeff DeJongh, a Cony science teacher and president of the association, said he has encouraged members to show their support for the budget to members of both the council and school board.

DeJongh said he understands local officials are concerned about Augusta receiving less revenue from the state due to potential state budget changes, but said the proposed spending to educate the city’s youths would be money well spent and a good investment.

DeJongh said even though staff are still without a contract, “I sense a change in the attitude of the school board, which I think is positive.”

“There will be at least a few of us there in support of the budget proposal,” he said.

Preceding the discussion of the school budget, according to City Manager William Bridgeo, city councilors are scheduled to:

* Recognize the life of the late local philanthropist Elsie Viles in a mayoral proclamation;

* Hold a public hearing and consider proposals to apply for a total of $500,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding to assist the development of the former Cony flatiron building and help Bread of Life Ministries develop veterans’ housing at Cony Village;

* Consider authorizing the use of up to $30,000 in downtown tax increment financing funds to reconstruct the public stairway at Oak Street connecting the parking garage on Dickman Street to the downtown area; and

* Consider designating street names for new streets and roundabouts being created as part of the new Interstate 95 exit 113 interchange project.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]