AUGUSTA — The $51.5 million proposed city and school budget — in which spending for General Assistance would more than triple in response to anticipated state cuts and increase property taxes — is up for a first reading and public scrutiny on Thursday.

A major proposed increase in the budget submitted to councilors by City Manager William Bridgeo in late March would increase spending on welfare from $123,000 to $455,000. That increase is to brace for both enacted and anticipated changes in how the state funds welfare, city officials said.

Councilors meet at 7 p.m. in council chambers at Augusta City Center. They have been working on the budget, which would require a 3.5 percent property tax increase, since early April.

On Thursday, they are expected to conduct the first of two required readings on the budget, and the public may comment on the budget. Councilors are tentatively scheduled to take a final vote on the budget May 31.

Under the proposed budget, Bridgeo anticipates that the city’s General Assistance costs will increase dramatically because of state cuts, though the state is expected to reimburse the city for half of the increase.

A newly formed coalition of the mayors from several of the state’s largest cities, including Augusta, have decried the General Assistance cuts. They say the cost of providing services to people in need would instead fall to cities and their property taxpayers.

That prompted Gov. Paul LePage, who proposed the cuts, to say that shifting the cost of General Assistance on to local property taxpayers was a local choice, and urged the mayors of the coalition to make changes to their General Assistance programs to cut costs.

Augusta Mayor William Stokes said funding General Assistance is one of the biggest challenges in the City Council’s work on the budget this year.

“The governor says we’re whining, but we’re looking at a major increase” in local General Assistance costs, Stokes said. “Am I whining? If you want to call it that … but I’m just looking at reality.”

So far, councilors have heard from residents concerned about cuts to the Kennebec Explorer bus service, Lithgow Library, and Bicentennial Nature Park, Stokes said. However, he said that if funding is restored to those programs then other cuts will likely have to be found to take their place, rather than increasing taxes.

Councilors on Thursday are also scheduled to:

* consider changing the zoning of a parcel of land on Eastern Avenue, east of the Cony Road intersection, from rural residential to planned development 2;

* hear a presentation from the Airport Advisory Committee regarding an upcoming marketing plan, the ongoing reconstruction of the main runway at Augusta State Airport, and other airport-related issues;

* hold a public hearing and consider granting a malt and vinous liquor license to White Flour Catering;

* hear a presentation from Public Works Director Lesley Jones regarding hazardous and electronic waste collections;

* meet in a closed-door session for property negotiations;

* consider authorizing Bridgeo to accept $18,000 from the federal Department of Justice for the purchase of a new police vehicle; and

* consider officially discontinuing a short section of Route 17, near Spring Road, which is no longer used as part of the road.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]


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