GARDINER — City councilors approved a city budget Wednesday night with spending down by nearly 1 percent, but the budget still will increase property taxes by 2.4 percent.

Along with the 2.4 percent tax increase from the school budget approved by voters in June, taxes are expected to increase by $146 for a house valued at the city’s median.

Councilors gave initial approval to the $5.4 million budget with a 6-2 vote at their last meeting two weeks ago, a meeting with nearly two hours of discussion about the budget, largely from residents telling councilors to not touch the funding given to local nonprofit organizations.

The same two councilors, Maureen Blanchard and Philip Hart, who opposed the budget at that meeting also voted against it Wednesday night.

Hart said he wished councilors could have scrutinized the budget more and set money aside for people who will need help paying their taxes.

“There are going to be people out there who are going to be struggling, who are going to be giving up stuff,” Hart said.

Mayor Thomas Harnett said he agreed that councilors didn’t spend as much time as they should have on parts of the budget, but he objected to the insinuation that they didn’t examine the budget enough. Harnett, along with Councilor Jonathan Ault, said the council spent a disproportionate amount of time discussing the city’s donations to nonprofit organizations, which make up around 2 percent of the budget.

Councilors had hoped to be able to use a consultant’s review of city services when discussing this year’s budget, but the report wasn’t ready on time. The city hired a consultant to review its police, fire and ambulance, library and public works departments, but the report now isn’t expected to be finished until late summer at the earliest.

Although no one at the public hearing on the budget two weeks ago spoke against funding the nonprofit organizations, both Blanchard and Ault said they heard from people who had said they felt uncomfortable speaking out against the funding at the meeting, where the audience frequently applauded whenever someone spoke in favor of the organizations.

Blanchard, who has said she would rather the city not give any money to nonprofit organizations, has been particularly critical of the $101,572 given to the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Gardiner, Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center and Gardiner Main Street each year. At Wednesday’s meeting, Blanchard advocated cutting 6 percent from the funding to each of the organizations because some city departments had faced cuts.

City Manager Scott Morelli originally recommended a budget in April with a 3.4 percent tax increase, saying it was the year to “bite the bullet” and raise taxes more substantially instead of dipping into reserve funds as the city did last year.

But councilors asked Morelli to find cuts to lower the tax increase to 2.4 percent. The roughly $70,000 in cuts to Morelli’s recommended budget included delaying hirings and some new purchases or expenses. A little more than half of it was from delaying the hiring of a children’s librarian and a police officer until at least November.

With this new budget and the school budget, Gardiner’s property tax rate is expected to increase from $20.60 per $1,000 of assessed value to $21.60 — a $100 tax increase for a property assessed at $100,000.

Councilors at the meeting also approved a liquor license for Gardiner Craft Beer Cellar, a beer store planned to open downtown in late August, according to the business’ application. The business at 339 Water St. has received a $35,000 forgivable loan and a $10,000 grant from the Gardiner Growth Initiative, a downtown business incentives program.

The incentives program, which also helped bring Frosty’s Donuts and Emery’s Meat & Produce to Gardiner over the last two years, is a collaboration among Gardiner Main Street, The Bank of Maine, the Gardiner Board of Trade and the city. The bank pledged $125,000 to the program for the forgivable loans and the board of trade gave $50,000 for the grants.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @pdkoenig

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