VASSALBORO — A slight tax increase is unavoidable this year, municipal officials say.

Faced with cuts in state education funding, officials estimate that town property taxes will go up by nearly $1 per $1,000 of valuation this coming fiscal year.

Budget Committee members on Wednesday examined such funding questions during a review of draft budget documents at their final meeting.

They, along with two School Committee members and selectmen, considered three ways to avoid a tax increase: taking more money from the town’s surplus fund, nickel-and-diming the budgets again, or cutting services. None of those options were favored.

Under the fiscal 2012-13 proposal, the municipal budget will drop by about $11,000, and anticipated revenues from sources other than property taxes will increase by about $47,000. That means the municipal side of the budget will require less local tax money.

The school budget, meanwhile, would drop by about $116,000. But because state funding will drop by a lot more, paying for education will require almost $449,000 more in local money than in the current fiscal year, officials said.

Town Manager Mary Sabins offered a summary sheet showing a resulting tax rate of $10.92 per $1,000 of property valuation. Now, the tax rate is $10.

Budget Committee member Douglas Phillips pointed out that if projected revenue estimates, or the projected $2.8 million gain in town valuation, are too generous then the tax increase will be even larger.

“The state has raised havoc with towns” through reductions in aid to education, Budget Committee Chairman William Whitley said.

The budget approved by six of the nine Budget Committee members present calls for using $150,000 from surplus, and perhaps more. That could be used, for example, to match a fire department grant if the fire department is awarded one.

Sabins strongly recommended taking no more from surplus.

The town has more than $1 million in surplus, some of which is in designated reserve funds. It’s mainly tapped to pay bills between tax payments and used as a hedge against a major tax increase, or as a loan, in case of an emergency purchase, Sabins said.

With the current budget so tight, Sabins said does not anticipate much left over this June.

Budget Committee members concluded that it’s too late in the budget process to spend time looking for reductions of a few hundred dollars in selective places.

And several people said cutting services would not be popular. Residents do not like the idea of a tax increase, but they appear resigned to it, said Whitley, Selectmen Chairman Philip Haines and Budget Committee member Lori Fowle.

Fowle said keeping a full-time librarian at Vassalboro Community School was another priority, a view endorsed by School Committee member Frederick Denico.

Vassalboro voters will make the final decisions at the June 11 Town Meeting, when they vote on 2012-13 school and municipal budgets. They will find Budget Committee and School Committee members and selectmen in agreement on recommended expenditures.


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