WATERVILLE — City councilors voted 5-2 Tuesday night to approve a proposed $38 million municipal and school budget for 2016-17 that includes $30,000 for Waterville Main Street — funding that did not look likely for the organization even as recently as a week ago.

Councilors must take one more vote to finalize the budget and are expected to do so July 5.

“Thank you,” Charlie Giguere, president of the Board of Directors for Waterville Main Street, said loudly to councilors after the vote.

Waterville Main Street initially had asked for $40,000, the amount it has received annually from the city. Colby College has funded $30,000, and other organizations have pitched in as well.

But this year, some councilors argued that the nonprofit organization had not done all that it should, including not hiring an executive director after Jennifer Olsen resigned and not getting enough businesses to support Waterville Main Street.

However, other councilors, including Dana Bushee, D-Ward 6, argued that now is not the time to eliminate funding for the downtown organization, as Colby College is rounding up investors to develop vacant buildings downtown and the city is working with Colby and businesses to help improve downtown.

Councilors on Tuesday night debated ways to fund Waterville Main Street, with Bushee proposing $31,000 in revenue be added to the proposed budget, with that revenue including $16,000 from additional state revenue sharing beyond what the city had expected, $10,000 from extra investment income and $5,000 from interest paid on delinquent taxes. The proposal adds $10,000 to the overall proposed budget figure the council considered Tuesday.

City Finance Director Chuck Calkins said after the meeting that the tax rate would decrease by 20 cents, from $27.80 per $1,000 worth of valuation to $27.60, if the council takes a final vote to approve the $38 million budget July 5.

Giguere said after Tuesday’s meeting that he was relieved the council decided to fund his organization.

“I think it leaves us in a position that we can survive and excel in because we have other long-term supporters who have told us that they will help fill in the gap,” Giguere said. “I’m happy.”

He said he understands councilors’ concerns about wanting to keep property taxes in check. He sees the city’s funding for Waterville Main Street as an investment, not a tax, however, because the organization generates income for the city. He said Waterville Main Street has followed the paradigm of Main Street organizations around the country that get a third of their funding from municipalities, a third from institutions and a third from downtown businesses. With all the investment to come downtown as part of revitalization, more funding will come, Giguere said.

“We’re very optimistic at this point. Now we’re going to search for an executive director and find the right person.”

Waterville Main Street helps sponsor and organize many events, including Kringleville, the Parade of Lights, Waterville Downtown Farmers Market, Maine Open Juried Art Show and festivals. It also created the downtown flower box programs and installed signs around the downtown.

Council Chairman John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, and Councilor Steve Soule, D-Ward 1, voted against the proposed budget. Soule said he spoke to a lot of residents who said if the council wanted to add items in the budget, it should make sure to remove other items. O’Donnell recommended the council make funding for Waterville Main Street contingent on performance.

“These folks really need to incentive to do it right,” O’Donnell said.

Mayor Nick Isgro said the city needs to provide tax relief and agreed that if funding is added to the proposed budget, something of equal value should be removed.

Councilors Nathaniel White, D-Ward 2, and Sidney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, initially had leaned toward eliminating funding for Waterville Main Street, but both said they got many calls from constituents asking that it be returned to the proposed budget.

White said it is a very tough budget year but councilors must remember why they are in office — to represent the people in their wards.

“With that said, I have received emails and phone calls because, obviously, Waterville Main Street is a huge aspect of the budget that is a concern for a lot of people, and we all know when we cut finding, it’s almost impossible to get that funding back,” White said.

He said Waterville Main Street officials know what they need to do to improve and they presented their case, and to lose the organization in the middle of a revitalization effort would be a “big deal.” He made a motion to amend the proposal to add $40,000 back into it. Bushee and Councilor Rosemary Winslow, D-Ward 3, simultaneously seconded his motion.

Mayhew agreed with Isgro that if something is added to the budget, something should be removed, so as not to increase the total.

“The tax cut has to be real; it has to be meaningful,” Mayhew said.

He said he felt Waterville Main Street needed to put in more effort to raise funds. He said stipulations to funding should be that the organization find a new director, introduce the director to the council, set financial goals and report to councilors quarterly.

“I’m all for supporting some funding, not fully funding, so there can be some measure there, of accomplishments,” Mayhew said.

White withdrew his motion to add $40,000 in funding as Bushee made a motion to add revenue into the budget to fund $30,000 for the organization.

Isgro insisted that the proposal not increase, even at $10,000.

Councilor Jackie Dupont, D-Ward 7, made a motion to amendment the proposed budget by adding a $65,000 code enforcement position. She recalled times Code Enforcement Officer Garth Collins spoke at council workshops, saying he was overwhelmed and would probably retire. She said vacant and dangerous, deteriorating buildings in the city need to be addressed and another position in that office would help. With all the investment in buildings coming, it will be further needed, she said. The position is directly linked to economic development, Dupont argued.

O’Donnell reiterated what he said at a recent workshop — that Collins said he did not need the position this year.

“I don’t know what I can tell you,” he said to Dupont.

Bushee seconded Dupont’s motion but the other five councilors voted against her amendment.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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