WATERVILLE — City councilors voted 6-0 Tuesday to postpone until next week taking a first vote on a proposed $37.8 million budget for 2015-16, saying more work needs to be done on it and more spending cuts made.

Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D-Ward 7, led the charge on the postponement to next Tuesday, saying she has a friend who lives on Cool Street with her mother, works two jobs and pays about $4,500 in taxes.

“She’s showing me her tax bill and saying, ‘I can’t afford it anymore,'” Rancourt-Thomas said.

She said the city can’t present a large tax increase to voters, especially with the city not knowing how much money it will get from the state government. The city’s fiscal year ends June 30.

“If we vote tonight, I’m not voting on this budget,” Rancourt-Thomas said. “It’s an unknown and at this point, I will hold the line.”

The council already postponed taking a first vote on the budget last week because three councilors were absent from the meeting, so there was no quorum. Three votes are needed to finalize the budget.

The proposed budget as it is would increase the current tax rate of $27.40 per $1,000 worth of assessed property valuation to $29.90 — a hike of $2.50. With that tax rate, a person who owns a house worth $100,000 would pay a $250 increase in taxes. A homeowner with a $300,000 house would pay a $750 increase.

Councilor Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, said the proposed budget in its present form is an “abomination,” and he has had about a dozen calls from constituents about it. He said he lives in a fairly affluent neighborhood and residents there are crying for tax relief.

“I’m hearing them loud and clear,” he said, adding that councilors are there at the call and courtesy of residents. “I intend to follow through and oppose any kind of raw budget the way it is now, without legitimate and serious cuts,” he said.

City Manager Michael Roy said proposed municipal spending in the budget is flat. The proposed school budget, though, shows an increase.

“Our big problem is on the revenue side,” Roy said. “The loss of revenue sharing is close to $1 million.”

Councilor John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, reminded the council that the state is making the city pay $300,000 in state teacher retirement pensions it did not have to pay before.

“What about the 55 percent the state is supposed to send us for education every year?” he asked. “Have they come close to 55 percent?” Roy said it has not.

The city’s finance committee recommended cutting the proposed $37.8 million budget by $200,000 by eliminating a police cruiser, some public works and paving projects and funding to outside agencies. The committee also recommended taking $400,000 from surplus for a total reduction of $600,000.

Mayor Nick Isgro has since recommended slashing the proposal by another $265,000, saying he had not heard any suggestions from councilors for further cuts. He said everyone knows about the state’s reducing revenue sharing, but municipalities have to step up to the plate and control spending.

“It’s about being realistic about the fact that we’re really pushing the envelope on the tax rate,” he said.

Isgro added that the payroll in the city has increased by about $800,000 in five years and most are contractual increases, but the city’s asset size has not grown. He asked for suggestions from residents, saying it is their budget, too.

Kelley Wynne, of Kelsey Street, said he spent 35 years in the U.S. Army and is now retired. “I live on military retirement. Try it. It’s hard,” he said.

The city’s trash collection system costs him about $100 a year, and his taxes are $354 to $400 a year, he said.

“You’re chasing people out of Waterville,” Wynne said. “People are leaving because of the fact that people can’t afford to live here.”

He said there may be 15,000 people in the city, but only about 5,000 pay taxes.

“All you do is keep piling on and piling on and piling on,” he said.

O’Donnell asked what happens when the governor again announces a surplus in state government yet deprives municipalities of revenue sharing. Isgro said he can’t change the governor’s budget.

“Until we expand the tax base and get manufacturing jobs back where people can actually make money, you’ve got to hold the line at some point,” Isgro said.

June Legg said she thought she spoke for a lot of people who are nearing retirement and probably is more fortunate, as she lives in a nice area and has a decent income.

“If I want to stay in Waterville and maintain the property I have in Waterville, I’m not going to be able to do it and survive, and I’m one of the lucky ones,” she said. “Us taxpayers, I think, are in the minority in this city; and we’re paying big taxes to support, how many people?”

She cited nonprofits such as colleges, which don’t pay taxes.

“Quite frankly, I don’t see myself retiring in Waterville. I really don’t,” she said.

Isgro said the city has 13 square miles and a third of properties are tax-exempt. The city also has lost about 2,000 residents in recent years, so the taxpayers who remain share the burden.

Council Chairman Fred Stubbert, D-Ward 1, said there’s only one solution and that is to broaden the tax base.

“We’ve got to attract businesses to Waterville,” he said. “We’ve got to get private enterprise in Waterville and we’re got to get major employers to locate here. We can’t keep raising taxes. We know that.”

Former City Councilor Stephen Aucoin said he keeps hearing that renters in the city don’t pay taxes and others carry the burden for them, but that is not the case. The landlords pass that cost on to renters, he said.

He said that to say renters place a burden on taxpayers is not right and it is demeaning to them.

“I think that should be straightened out and made public,” he said.

Aucoin, who ran for mayor and lost to Isgro, said growth in the city will not happen in the next three to five years as it does not have the labor force, a trained labor force and no training programs.

He said people need to get together and lobby the Legislature to make changes.

“I think if you think we’re going to grow our way out of this, I think that’s naive,” he said. “I think we’ve been drained and disenfranchised by Augusta and I think we need to address that.”

Officials said Alternative Organizational Structure 92 Superintendent Eric Haley will speak to the Board of Education on Wednesday about the budget, and the finance committee will discuss it again Thursday.

Councilor Dana Bushee, D-Ward 6, was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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Twitter: @AmyCalder17