WATERVILLE — The $37.4 million municipal and school budget is — at long last — a go.

City councilors voted 7-0 Tuesday to uphold Mayor Nick Isgro’s veto of the budget approved July 7, but then voted 6-1 to approve it with a change.

Councilors decided to take $58,000 in unexpected state subsidy to schools out of the surplus account and use it to reduce the city’s tax rate — a move Isgro recommended in his veto message of July 8. Isgro maintained the money was intended to be used in the budget itself and not held as surplus.

Councilor John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, was the lone dissenter in approving the budget Tuesday.

O’Donnell argued that the city’s surplus is shrinking and must be built up. The city’s policy is to keep the surplus at or above 12 percent of the budget.

“I just think we have to start thinking about replenishing our savings, because we can’t change our policy,” he said.

The movement of the $58,000 will mean the tax rate of $27.40 per $1,000 worth of property valuation will increase to $27.80 rather than $27.90 — which would have been the tax rate had the $58,000 not been moved out of surplus.

So someone with a home worth about $100,000 will pay a $40 increase in taxes, rather than $50.

O’Donnell’s comment that it was only $10 a year drew ire from Isgro, who said $10 wasn’t a lot to O’Donnell.

Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D-Ward 7, cited an increase in the number of people eating at soup kitchens in the city and said people can’t afford higher taxes.

“Ten dollars may not mean a lot to you, but $10 may mean a lot to these people going to the soup kitchens, because they don’t have the money,” she said, adding that she had to vote her conscience on the matter.

“Why didn’t you vote your conscience the last time?” O’Donnell shot back.

“She did,” Isgro replied, with Rancourt-Thomas adding: “John, I voted against this budget the last time.”

Councilor Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, said he hears from people in his ward all the time that taxes are too high.

“I live in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the city, and they’re hurting,” he said, adding that on Cherry Hill Terrace people say they can’t retire because the tax rate is too high. Everywhere, people are putting their houses up for sale, according to Mayhew.

“It’s absolutely crazy,” he said.

But former city councilor Steve Aucoin said that while he agrees taxes are too high, the problem won’t be solved by “nickel and diming it.”

A possible solution, he said, is to create an economic and community development office and hire a director for it.

“This $58,000 could be the easy seed for a 1-to-1 match from a grant,” he said.

But Isgro said the $58,000 is for education and really can’t be used for such a purpose.

Councilors voted July 7 to reject a proposal to establish an economic and community development office and hire a director, but the issue is expected to resurface for further consideration next month.

Meanwhile, Pamela Trinward, a member of the Waterville Board of Education and former state representative, said schools have taken money from surplus the last few years for the budget and the money is not used for one-time expenses, but to pay teachers, salaries, benefits and other items to keep schools operating. The schools trimmed more than $1 million from its budget proposal this year, she said.

Lowering the undesignated fund, or surplus, is not a fiscally responsible thing to do, Trinward said.

“We’re asking you as city councilors to support us, and I believe you should,” she said.

School Superintendent Eric Haley said the $58,000 is the excess revenue the state finally decided to give Waterville schools, beyond what he had estimated the schools would get.

After the vote, Isgro asked the audience to give the council a hand. He said councilors worked hard on the budget.

“They put up with me all this time, so we’re doing all right,” he said.

In other matters, the council voted 4-3 to reject a proposal by Jerald Hurdle to rezone 145 Kennedy Memorial Drive to allow the Yellow Dog Car Wash to be built there. The Planning Board Monday night reviewed a proposed site plan for the business but didn’t vote on it because only four of seven board members attended the meeting and there was no quorum.

Neighbors objected to having a car wash there, citing the likelihood of noise, pollution, freezing water in winter, traffic and other problems. The car wash would have been an automatic car wash, with no employees on site.

Mayhew, Council Chairman Fred Stubbert, D-Ward 1, and Councilor Dana Bushee, D-Ward 6, voted to approve rezoning the lot, on which A.L. Weeks & Sons auto body formerly was located. O’Donnell, Rancourt-Thomas and councilors Nathaniel White, D-Ward 2, and Rosemary Winslow, D-Ward 3, opposed it.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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