WATERVILLE — City and school officials are looking for ways to slash their proposed budgets by a total of $750,000 in an effort to trim a $38 million municipal and school budget for 2016-17 so the tax rate is reduced by $1 or more per $1,000 worth of valuation.

Mayor Nick Isgro said Friday that he believes the final assessment from a recent citywide revaluation, combined with proposed cuts to the budget, will result in a tax rate that is $22.80 per $1,000 worth of valuation, down from the current $27.80 tax rate.

“I have no doubt that we will reach $750,000, and after talking with City Assessor Paul Castonguay yesterday, that we’ll actually drop that mill rate to $22.80,” Isgro said. “I think it’s important that we don’t trivialize the amount of cuts. Even if it’s $200 from a tax bill, that is a lot of money to some people.”

The City Council will meet with department heads at 6 p.m. Monday for a budget workshop in the council chambers at The Center downtown to discuss the proposed cuts. The public is encouraged to attend.

City Manager Michael Roy asked city department heads to trim their budgets by 1 percent each for a total of $375,000. He asked the same of the school department.

“My objective at this time is to find cuts that will not cut people and will not eliminate programs,” Roy said. “On the city side, we’re asking departments to look at their budgets again and identify some areas where cuts can be made.”

Roy said that when he became city manager in 2004, Paul LePage, mayor at the time, proposed — and the City Council approved — cutting the city workforce by 13.5 percent.

“Seventeen positions were eliminated,” Roy said. “My position is that we can not afford any reductions in personnel without a serious threat to what we’re trying to do every day.”

The council voted 7-0 last Monday to repeal a vote they took last month to override Isgro’s veto of the $38 million municipal and school budget for 2016-17, effectively deciding to reopen budget talks and consider cutting the budget.

Residents have packed recent council meetings to complain about the city’s high tax rate, which actually was reduced as part of the budget, but taxes for many people are increasing significantly because of the recent citywide revaluation of properties. That revaluation resulted in a shift that reduced many commercial property taxes and increased many residents’ taxes.

Many taxpayers, including seniors and those on fixed incomes, say they can not afford to pay their taxes at such a high tax rate — one of the highest in the state. With the initial $38 million budget that the council passed, the tax rate was reduced from $27.80 to $24.50 per $1,000 worth of assessment.

Roy said city officials hope residents attend Monday’s meeting. “It’s a workshop, primarily, for the council to work their way through to a difficult budget total, so the bulk of the time should be devoted to that work the council needs to do,” he said.

The council has no legal obligation to allow residents to speak at a workshop, where no vote will be taken, but Roy said that in the past the council has allowed comment at workshops. The time for public questions and comments will likely be limited to allow councilors to discuss where cuts may be made and how much money those cuts will represent, Roy said.

Councilors meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 16, are expected to take a final vote on a new proposed budget that will be less than $38 million, according to Roy. That meeting will include public discussion.

SCHOOL BUDGET

Isgro said he and others had a productive meeting with school officials Thursday. School officials propose to reduce their budget by taking money from surplus, increasing MaineCare fund revenue and making various cuts to reach the goal of $375,000.

Alternative Organizational Structure 92 Superintendent Eric Haley sent a letter to district employees recently explaining the city’s request that Waterville schools cut $375,000 from the budget. While the school board has been told by some people that teachers’ salaries are excessive, raises negotiated through unions are too large and the schools are overstaffed, Haley explained in his letter to employees that Waterville’s per pupil cost is only $10,391 compared to the state average of $12,551 per pupil. The AOS includes Waterville, Winslow and Vassalboro, though each community has its own board and budget.

Winslow’s per pupil cost is $11,410, Oakland-based Regional School Unit 18’s is $11,132 and Fairfield-based Regional School Unit 49’s is $11,045. Per pupil cost in Bangor is $11,267; Augusta, $11,253; Winthrop, $11,552; Gardiner, $10,139; and School Administrative District 54, $12,121.

Isgro said if the city comes close to reducing the budget by $2 per $1,000, he recommends city and school officials start early next year looking at services and how to fund them. He said many people talk about essential services, but not everyone has the same definition of what essential services are.

Isgro said that to him, it means educating children, responding to emergencies and taking care of the city’s infrastructure.

“That doesn’t mean I’m right,” he said Friday. “We have to have a continuing discussion about it. I think there’s a lot of room for debate in there, and I hope we spend a lot of time over the next year discussing that.”

CITY DEPARTMENT CUTS

Waterville police Chief Joseph Massey said that as part of his proposed cuts totaling about $38,000, he is eliminating the purchase of a police cruiser from his budget.

“That will eliminate about $32,000, and I have some additional, smaller cuts in my operational budget that totals it out to about $38,000,” Massey said.

The police department recently received $130,000 in forfeiture money from investigations that Massey believes also would be used to help offset the budget.

He said his initial request in the budget was for three police cruisers and Roy eliminated one of those cruisers, so now the department would get only one cruiser. Massey tries to maintain a cruiser replacement cycle because cruisers are used 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They generate high mileage and require costly maintenance and the more worn a vehicle becomes, the more unreliable and less safe it is, and the less trade-in value it has, according to Massey.

Next year, he will have to ask for more cruisers, and trying to buy several cruisers in one budget cycle is very difficult, he said.

“All we do is kick the can down the road,” Massey said. “This was not excess money in my budget, this $38,000. I had to make real cuts. I understand that they’re trying to do what they can to lower the taxes and keep the budget as low as they possibly can, but there’s consequences to some of those cuts.”

The police department is the second-largest city department behind the Public Works Department, which has a budget of $3.7 million. Public Works Director Mark Turner said that he has proposed cuts to his department totaling about $37,000, which would reduce it to $3.6 million.

“Everything is trimmed pretty much to the point that the next level would perhaps cut personnel and services,” Turner said.

His proposed cuts include $8,750 from the operation and maintenance account; $7,500, traffic management; $9,150, fleet maintenance; $10,755, refuse and solid waste; and $700, administration.

Turner said a large part of the budget difficulties lies in the fact that the city has lost millions of dollars in state revenue sharing in recent years.

Linda Fossa, director of the city’s Health and Welfare Department, said she had to reduce the budget by $2,600 and is cutting $200 from office supplies, $200 from office equipment and $200 from miscellaneous, as well as $2,000 in general expenses for burial assistance.

City Planner Ann Beverage said she budgeted for a certain number of Planning Board meetings and will decrease the number of meetings to cut the department’s budget.

“We’ll just have to have longer meetings and fewer of them,” she said.

Matt Skehan, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, is cutting $7,000 from his budget by cutting professional services or funding for officials to run clinics and other special events.

“I think we can do it and we’re happy to do it because we understand how tight things are, and we want to do our part to help and get through this budget year,” Skehan said.

City Assessor Paul Castonguay said he will cut $1,800 from printing and supplies.

“My largest expense, other than labor and health insurance, is digital mapping updates annually, and that I can’t go without, so it’s going to be printing and supplies for me,” Castonguay said.

LIBRARY OFFERS CUTS

The Waterville Public Library plans to temporarily close the library on Sundays as part of its effort to reduce its request for municipal funds by 5 percent.

“Additional cuts will be in Library staffing,” a press release from the library says. “Four individuals will see their hours reduced or eliminated. The Library Board and Administration do not take these cuts lightly. We love our library staff. They provide outstanding customer service each day, and they are self-directed and know how to work as a team. They impress us each day with their commitment.”

Isgro said before any city or school departments were asked to cut their budgets, Library Director Sarah Sugden and the library’s board of trustees volunteered to cut the library budget by 5 percent.

The library’s press release asks the community to help staff impacted by budget cuts by notifying the library if they learn of job openings.

Cindy Jacobs, president of the library’s board of trustees, said the library in 2015-16 received $459,558 in funding from the city.

The library’s proposed budget for 2016-17 was $471,036, a 2.5 percent increase of $11,477, primarily for staff to run programs, she said.

She said the board approved the action of reducing the budget by 5 percent, which removes the original 2.5 percent increase requested and reduces the library’s original 2015-16 budget by 5 percent, or $22,977.

Jacobs said that while the amount is a very small portion of the overall municipal budget, library officials felt this is the time to demonstrate that they understand the situation and want to help in any way they can.

The city pays $28.22 per capita for public library spending, while in comparison, Fairfield spends $27.35, Augusta pays $33.52 and Belfast pays $56.94, according to library officials. The library in 2015 had more than 110,000 visitors and offered 654 programs. It served more than 6,000 people on Sundays last year, and when economic conditions permit, restoring Sunday hours will be a high priority, officials say.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17