WATERVILLE — Reaction to Tuesday’s City Council budget veto override was fast and furious, but the councilors who voted in favor of the $38 million city budget said there is nothing more to cut to help blunt the effect of high tax bills that were caused by a recent city revaluation.

The response on social media Tuesday night and Wednesday included calls for recalling the councilors who voted for the override and repealing the budget by petition, but few concrete efforts were apparent Wednesday, and the city clerk wasn’t sure how much leeway residents would have to do those things.

“The revaluation and the budget are two separate issues,” said Councilor Nathaniel White, Ward 2, who voted to override. “And I voted to pass the budget because, realistically, in order to drop someone’s tax bill significantly, we would have had to cut a lot of money out of the budget.”

Isgro, who tweeted his displeasure with the override from Tuesday’s meeting, including an attack on White, confirmed Wednesday that residents have contacted him on his personal Facebook page about the possibility of a petition to repeal the budget as well as voting to recall those who voted to override the veto.

“It’s good for the citizens to realize that there are options if they don’t like the way things have gone, with any matter, not just the budget,” he said. “I would support the citizens on anything probably when they’re taking matters into their own hands.”

Waterville resident Jessica Laliberte posted Wednesday morning on Facebook that she is starting a citizen initiative to repeal the vote and that the opponents of the budget have to gather “roughly 821 signatures” in 21 days. She asks those who are interested in helping to send her a message. There were few public responses to the post.

She was not available for comment immediately Wednesday evening on how much support she’d received.

The city charter holds that residents can “approve or reject at the polls any resolution, order or ordinance” passed by the council and that a petition making a referendum vote possible would need to have signatures of at least 15 percent of the number of city residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election. Those signing must be registered voters and residents of the city.

However, the charter does not make clear whether repealing a budget vote is allowed by the charter, according to City Clerk Patty Dubois, who said she is conferring with the city’s attorney. As of Wednesday afternoon, no one had approached the city clerk’s office about such a petition and no one had announced publicly the start of a petition or recall effort.

Isgro vetoed the budget July 6, a day after councilors passed it 4-2. At Tuesday’s meeting, packed with residents expressing distress about increased property tax bills, councilors voted 5-2 to override Isgro’s veto — leaving the $38 million budget as it was approved originally by councilors.

The budget and the recently completed city revaluation actually lower the tax rate from $27.80 to $24.50 per $1,000 worth of assessed property value, but many residents will see an increase in their tax bill because of their new higher property values. Some residents’ taxes will decrease and some will stay the same. Tax bills will be sent to property owners next month.

Besides White, councilors Jackie Dupont, of Ward 7, Dana Bushee, of Ward 6, John O’Donnell, of Ward 5, and Rosemary Winslow, of Ward 3, voted in favor of overriding the budget veto. Steve Soule, of Ward 1, and Sydney Mayhew, of Ward 4, voted to sustain Isgro’s veto.

‘NOTHING TO CUT’

Isgro asked councilors before discussion of the override began Tuesday night to sustain his veto and go back to look through the budget, not only for possible cuts, but to determine what has caused an increase in city expenditures of $4 million over the last five years.

“What I was asking the council to do last night was look,” he said Wednesday in an interview. “Maybe there is not much we can do, but right now none of us can look at taxpayers and tell them what that increase in spending was. I think when the mil rate is as high as it is, we really need to look at everything.”

Bushee said Wednesday that she felt morally obligated to vote in favor of the override in order to protect essential services and the school budget from facing cuts. Since the mayor vetoed the budget, Bushee asked what he recommended for cuts and received no solid answers.

“Each time I got nothing, because there was nothing to cut in the budget,” Bushee said. “I felt I had the moral obligation to protect the people who worked in the city, including the police officers and the firefighters, and to protect the schools.”

Bushee said this year’s budget process was the most thorough she has been a part of in her three years on the council. She said there was nothing more they could cut if they went back through the budget unless they delved into cutting essential services. She said she heard Isgro and Mayhew talking “constantly about cutting teachers and cutting police officers.”

“I was worried what they were willing to cut to save face,” Bushee said.

Isgro on Wednesday night reacted on his mayoral Facebook page to Bushee’s comment, calling it a “flat out lie to save face.”

“Saying that Councilor Bushee ever heard any calls for cutting teachers and police is a flat out lie and it saddens me,” Isgro said later in a statement. “Anyone that read my memo or attended the meeting knows I asked the council to investigate why it costs $4 million more to run the city now than it did several years ago and we should at least attempt to do something.”

Mayhew said Wednesday that he would have protected essential city services from being cut, but he felt Isgro was not asking too much for the council to go back through the budget, given the number of residents who he has heard cannot afford to live in Waterville under the present tax rate.

“He wasn’t asking for anything drastically unrealistic,” Mayhew said. “It was to my understanding that each department, even the school budget, could have been looked at again for possible cuts as long as we weren’t going to damage essential city services. … I still feel we could have done some moderate cuts.”

HIGH TAX RATE

At Tuesday’s meeting, residents who spoke said they are frustrated that with the recent revaluation, their property taxes are increasing, in some cases as much as doubling. Mayhew said he has fielded countless phone calls and emails from constituents in his ward who say they no longer will be able to live in Waterville.

“The middle class of Waterville are the sore backs that are holding the tax base up, and they are breaking, and that is my concern,” Mayhew said.

However, those who voted for the veto override said it is important for residents to understand that the budget and the results of the revaluation are two separate matters that came to fruition at the same time, blurring the issue.

“The revaluation was going to happen at some point,” White said. “It’s unfortunate that is happened at the same time as the budget. In order to have a significant decrease (on the tax rate), we would have had to cut monstrous amounts out of the budget.”

Bushee agreed the financial burden for some will be hard. “I’m pretty sure that people are also going to have to move, and that makes me sad,” she said. “But we couldn’t have solved that with this budget, and I think that’s really unfair that that’s what the mayor turned it into.”

With Waterville’s tax rate ranked among one of the highest in the state, Isgro said in his veto message to the council that Waterville’s problems go back many years and are influenced by several things. Isgro said state revenue sharing to the city has decreased, the city has debt from $12 million it borrowed in the last few years for various projects and the city’s surplus fund has decreased.

“I think it is important to realize that Waterville’s mil rate didn’t get this high overnight,” Isgro said.

Isgro said he would favor looking at a 10-year strategy to reduce the tax rate that would focus on determining where the expenditure side of the budget has increased an bringing in outside stakeholders to help revitalize the city and bring in jobs.

With the frustration expressed by residents about the present tax rate, especially the frustration of those whose bills are expected to increase, both White and Bushee said they were sympathetic to those who spoke at the council meeting Tuesday and that their vote to override the budget was not ignoring their concerns.

“I’m a single parent of two and I have a home mortgage,” Bushee said. “I understand it and I live on a nonprofit salary. I understand the fear and the penny-pinching.” She said her taxes, too, are increasing because of the revaluation.

“I understand where people are coming from,” she said. “I also understand that I live in a city where I can walk to places and I love the schools that my daughters attend and I feel safe here. … I also understand the price of living within a city.”

White said the council might look at postponing adopting the new revaluation, but that it needs to confer with the city assessor’s office on the pros and cons of doing so.

RESPONSE TO MAYOR’S TWEETS

White said he understands the negative effects the revaluation is having on some Waterville residents and that his vote to override the mayor’s veto of budget was not ignoring the concerns brought forth by residents at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I feel for the people that have had their tax bill increase,” White said. “To say that the councilors voted to override the veto don’t care about their constituents is fabrication.”

After the override vote Tuesday night, Isgro fired off several tweets that were critical of the council’s action. “Waterville council lives up to reputation. Ignores constituents and sticks it to the tax payers again. Elections have consequences,” the first tweet read.

The second read, “Waterville Council just told their constituency to blow off. Sick.”

In his third tweet, Isgro personally targeted White, tweeting, “Councilor White said his vote would be based on tonight’s hearing. He must have mean watching Councilor Winslow.”

White said he understands Isgro’s passion for the taxpayers, adding that he believes Isgro let his frustration and anger get ahead of him.

“He basically called me Rosemary Winslow’s puppet, which was incorrect. I didn’t look to anyone for a decision,” White said. “I have thick skin, I can take it and I hope it doesn’t compromise our friendship, because I do respect Mayor Isgro. However, I do think it was unprofessional for him to do so on social media and not talk to me in person about it.”

Bushee, while not personally mentioned in any of Isgro’s tweets, said she was hurt by the sentiment of Isgro taking to Twitter to express his frustration.

“I typically work very well with Nick Isgro,” she said. “And typically we agree to disagree and we have a good working relationship. I was really surprised to see all of the things he was typing during the meeting, and it was hurtful, especially because of the amount of work I feel like I’ve put in this year.”

Isgro said he sent the tweets out of frustration after hearing the concerns of the taxpayers and then watching the council override his veto.

“Was it the most prudent thing I’ve ever done? Probably not,” he said Wednesday. “But it was a moment of pure frustration when I am sitting there and looking at the devastated faces.

“It is extremely difficult to separate that human side, and it really was just a moment of supreme frustration.”

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

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Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate