The Waterville City Council now appears ready to reopen the 2016-17 budget, following complaints from residents facing higher property tax bills.

If residents are hoping for tax relief, however, they are going to be sorely disappointed. The high tax burden in Waterville is bigger than this one budget, and lowering it enough to make a difference will take years, not weeks.

FAIRER TAXES

The City Council approved the $38 million 2016-2017 municipal and school budget on July 5, and Mayor Nick Isgro vetoed it the next day.

His position was backed by a few dozen residents who, after seeeing their taxes increase, attended a council meeting to ask that the budget be reconsidered.

It wasn’t the budget that was the culprit, however. In fact, the most recent budget actually reduced the tax burden.

Instead, it was the recent citywide property revaluation that caused the increases, but only for some taxpayers.

Those increases may have been a shock, but they shouldn’t have been a surprise. The city had not undergone a revaluation in decades, and properties assessed at something close to their actual present-day value — many of them commercial properties — were shouldering an undue portion of the tax burden. That also means that the people now seeing the largest increases were not paying their share of taxes for years.

To be sure, it is difficult for individual taxpayers to handle such a hike — which is why revaluations should not be delayed for this long — but there is no doubt that Waterville’s tax structure is much more fair today than it was a year ago.

CUTS HARD TO FIND

Still, the impact of Waterville’s high tax rate on its residents — and its future prospects — are real, and they need to be confronted.

However, even if the council reconsiders the budget and reaches its apparent goal of cutting 1 mill — about $750,000, no small feat — that’s only a 4 percent reduction, hardly enough to make a real difference, particularly since a lot of the reduced spending will just have to be allocated in a future budget. (Though perhaps some token decrease will convince angry taxpayers that they are at least being heard.)

No, the kind of reductions necessary to truly make an impact must be handled during the budget process, when councilors and city staff go through spending line by line and consider where spending can be cut and efficiencies found.

Councilors who initially approved the budget said they could cut no more during the months formulating the budget.

But that wasn’t enough for Isgro, who has led the calls to reopen the budget, and taken to social media to — again — unnecessarily excoriate councilors and call for budget cuts.

Isgro, however, hasn’t been able to offer any specifics on what spending he would eliminate.

That’s irresponsible. If at this late stage you’re going to help throw the budget process into upheaval, you should at least have an idea of what should be cut. If you don’t know, after being around the budget for the better part of a year, maybe it’s because cutting isn’t that simple — after all, the final negotiations in the budget were over items as low as $10,000.

LONG-RANGE PLANNING

But Isgro is right that high taxes threaten Waterville’s future, and he is right to suggest that city leaders collaborate on a 10-year strategy to reduce them.

Waterville has one of the highest tax rates in the state because it spends a lot but also because of factors largely out of its control.

It is the hub of its region, a city with a lot of tax-exempt property that provides services and entertainment to surrounding communities where it is cheaper to live. It has been harmed by the loss of manufacturing and the severe reduction in state revenue sharing.

Those problems aren’t unique to Waterville, but that doesn’t make them any easier to fix. Solutions have been hard to come by, though it appears that real spending reductions — the kind that don’t reduce services and school offerings so much that it is detrimental — must come as a result of major structural changes to the way Waterville does business.

That won’t get done in this budget, but it has to be part of the city’s long-range plan.