WATERVILLE — School and city officials developing proposed budgets for 2013-14 agree that the process is difficult when revenue is unknown.

They still don’t know how much money the city will get from the state, nor do they know whether local governments will have to pay part of teacher retirement costs.

City councilors and school officials on Tuesday reviewed a proposed $37.3 million municipal and school budget that represents a $461,681 increase from the current $36.9 million budget.

If the budget passes as is, the tax rate would increase $2 — from $25.65 per $1,000 worth of assessed valuation to $27.65. In other words, someone with a home assessed at $100,000 and paid $2,565 in taxes would have to pay $200 more — or $2,765.

Officials discussed the amount that would have to be cut from the proposed budget to increase the tax rate only $1.50.

City Manager Michael Roy said $381,556 would have to be cut.

The city’s proposed municipal budget is $17.1 million, a $3,161 increase from the current budget total; the school’s proposed budget is $20.2 million, or a $458,520 increase.

Councilor Fred Stubbert, D-Ward 1, asked School Superintendent Eric Haley what he would cut, if necessary.

“Do you have some hidden cuts somewhere, in worst case?” he asked.

Haley said he will do his best not to cut staff.

“People are our most precious commodity,” he said.

“I will say this to you, and I don’t say it with tongue in cheek,” Haley said. “I can make the numbers anything you want them to be. You just have to live with the carnage afterward. This budget is (already) stripped out.”

Stubbert said when he was on the school board years ago, Waterville had “probably the best school system in the state.”

“Do you think we’re still at that level?” he asked.

“I think our clientele has changed a lot since then, but do I think we’re at the same level?” Haley replied. “No, I think our assessments show we’re not at that same level.”

He said teachers are “very, very qualified,” but schools need to do more to support early childhood education and put resources where they mean more than they do now.

It is critical, he said, that children enter kindergarten school-ready and prepared to learn.

“And that is the issue. Not all children are coming to school that way,” he said.

He said $250,000 was lost through cuts to Early Head Start. Waterville schools and Educare Central Maine, which serves pre-kindergarten children, are collaborating to try to get grant money to increase the percentage of children reading at a third-grade level, Haley said.

Councilor John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, said finding ways to cut the budget is difficult when school and city officials don’t know how much the state will subsidize.

“The reality is, even if you find more cuts, until we know what we’re getting from the state, it could be an exercise in futility, right?”

Haley said legislators told him it will be weeks until subsidies are known.

“They all told me the same thing: Don’t hold your breath until June 30,” he said.

In response to a question from Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D-Ward 7, Haley said 1,851 students are enrolled in Waterville schools and 3,750 are enrolled in Alternative Organizational Structure 92, which includes Waterville, Vassalboro and Winslow schools.

All children enrolled in Educare and 78 percent of students at George J. Mitchell School qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, he said. The number of students who are homeless is on the rise, he added.

“We have a needy population,” he said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247
[email protected]