AUGUSTA — City councilors approved a $52.5 million school and city budget Thursday night, wrapping up weeks of often contentious debate, especially about school spending.

Changes to the budget first offered by Mayor William Stokes last week decreased the budget’s effect on taxes from a 6.1 percent increase to 3.4 percent in the final version of the budget approved by councilors Thursday.

The tax rate, which in previous versions of the budget would have risen from $17.55 to $18.62 per $1,000 of valuation, instead will increase to $18.15.

The $18.15 rate would result in the owner of a $125,000 home in Augusta paying $72 more in taxes for the year.

Councilors voted 7–1 to approve the budget, with Councilor Mark O’Brien voting against it, because he wanted to hold off on voting for two weeks in hopes better information would become available about state funding levels.

Councilor David Rollins said his vote in favor was made in protest, arguing that the budget underfunds education.

“We’ve got to turn this city around and make our school department the best it can be,” Rollins said.
Councilor Patrick Paradis said the city wouldn’t have to raise taxes were it not for state income tax cuts enacted by the Legislature two years ago.

“The state Legislature passed a budget in 2011 with a hole big enough to drive an aircraft carrier through it,” Paradis said of the state income tax cut. “Now we’re having to pay the tab. What’s so sad is it didn’t have to be this way. We wouldn’t be here if they were not irresponsible two years ago, bragging about something they hadn’t funded.”

Stokes suggested the schools take an additional $414,000 from the school undesignated fund balance, or rainy day, account, which is generally made up of funds left unspent in previous years, and used in emergencies or, in this case, to offset the effect of expenses on taxpayers. The school budget already relied upon $800,000 from fund balance, so more than $1.2 million of the fund balance would be used to help balance the budget. School board members have expressed concern that spending too much from the fund balance this year will leave little to use next year, and result in an even larger hit to taxpayers next year because those funds won’t be available to help offset spending.

Stokes said using that $1.2 million from fund balance would reduce it to about $400,000, but he anticipates the schools would be able to return at least $600,000 in unspent funds at the end of the budget year.

Looming over the budget debate has been the still unsettled state budget, which could have a major effect locally.

Gov. Paul LePage, as part of his state budget proposal, would suspend revenue sharing to municipalities, costing Augusta about $1.7 million in revenue. City Manager William Bridgeo included state revenue sharing funds in the city budget. So if the those funds are eliminated from the state budget, Bridgeo said he would recommend the city take the funds from its undesignated fund balance to get through this year.

Stokes said legislators from both parties initially spoke out against suspending revenue sharing, and even LePage said he didn’t like doing so; but as the state budget impasse continues, Stokes fears it is becoming more likely.

“What appeared to be unthinkable — suspending revenue sharing — is now being talked about as a serious possibility,” Stokes said.

The $27.4 million school portion of the total budget goes to residents citywide Tuesday in a budget validation referendum vote. The $23.6 million city portion of the budget does not go to residents for a vote; it was approved by the vote of councilors Thursday.

The school board is scheduled to meet Saturday to discuss the school budget, following a 10:30 a.m., closed-door session of the board for negotiations, in the conference room at the central office, which is at Hussey Elementary School.

No members of the public, nor school board members or other school officials, spoke up during a public comment period on the budget before councilors voted Thursday.

Councilor Mark O’Brien sought to amend the budget to increase school funding by $150,000 but narrowly failed to convince a majority of councilors to agree to do so, with councilors rejecting his amendment, 5–3.

O’Brien said the funding could help provide raises to teachers and other school staff members, who are in negotiations for new contracts and have said they have gone years without significant raises.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.