WATERVILLE — City and school officials have found $750,000 they can cut from a $38 million municipal and school budget proposal that, combined with a readjustment to the city revaluation, would bring the city’s tax rate down to $22.80 per $1,000 worth of valuation.

But those cuts also came with warnings from department heads, including schools Superintendent Eric Haley’s warning that depleting the school district’s undesignated fund — necessary to make the $375,000 in cuts requested of the department — is “fiscally irresponsible..”

City councilors reviewed the proposed cuts at a two-hour long budget workshop Monday night, which drew more than 60 residents to the council chambers. Mayor Nick Isgro reminded those in attendance that the purpose of Monday’s workshop was to bring forth recommendations and questions regarding the budget and possible cuts. He urged individuals to save comments regarding the budget for the city council’s 7 p.m. meeting Tuesday, Aug. 16, when councilors will take a final vote on the reduced $38,772,696 budget.

The $750,000 in proposed cuts comes after the council voted last Monday to repeal a vote it took last month to override Isgro’s veto of the initial $38 million budget for 2016-2017. Repealing the vote reopened the budget, and City Manager Mike Roy asked city department heads to trim their budgets by 1 percent each for a total of $375,000 in cuts and asked the school board to find an additional $375,000 in cuts.

On top of the $750,000 in proposed cuts bringing the tax rate down $1 to $23.50 per $1,000, Roy said over the last two weeks the city has discovered the revaluation of the city is higher than they initially realized, creating an additional reduction of $0.70 to the tax rate for a total rate of $22.80 per $1,000 worth of valuation.

The proposed $22.80 tax rate is a reduction of $5 per $1,000 worth of valuation from the present tax rate of $27.80.

“It’s been from March to now to try to get us to a point where hopefully we can get a mil rate that is acceptable to most of you. It’s not going to be acceptable to all, we realize that,” Roy said in his city budget presentation at Monday’s workshop.

City residents have packed council meetings over the last month to express concern over the city’s tax rate, which is one of the highest in the state. While the tax rate was reduced to $24.50 per $1,000 worth of valuation in the initial $38 million budget, many residents were seeing a significant increase in their property tax bills because of the property revaluation.

A citizens’ petition to repeal the council’s override of the veto is expected to be submitted to the city Tuesday, the petition’s deadline. Roy said the petition will have no effect since councilors have already repealed the vote to override the veto and have reopened the budget.

Alternative Organizational Structure 92 Superintendent Haley said most of the $375,000 in reductions to Waterville’s school budget come from carrying forward $248,055 from the district’s undesignated fund. The additional carry forward paired with the $250,000 in carry forward already included in the original school budget proposal would deplete the fund.

Haley called the decision to deplete the undesignated fund “fiscally irresponsible,” but the only alternative other than making drastic cuts to personnel and programing, such as eliminating at least 10 teachers or eliminating the adult education program.

On top of the increase in carry forward, Haley also proposed using an additional $111,094 in MaineCare revenue the district will receive to bouy up parts of the school budget. He also proposed $15,850 in other cuts.

Councilor Dana Bushee, of Ward 6, and a couple of members of the audience urged the school budget be handled with the realization that a strong school district is what could draw more families into Waterville, boosting the tax base. AOS 92 includes Waterville, Winslow and Vassalboro, though each community has its own board and budget.

Other significant department cuts included a $36,855 reduction to the Police Department’s budget, resulting in the department only being able to acquire one new cruiser this fiscal year; a $20,530 cut to the Fire Department’s budget; an $82,500 cut to the city’s capital improvement fund, which means the city will complete only half of the paving intended for the year; and a $36,500 cut to the Public Works Department.

The Waterville Public Library proposed a 5 percent cut to their budget, or $23,400. Isgro, councilors and the public applauded Library Director Sarah Sugden for offering a significant cut to her department’s budget, which she did before the city tasked departments to cut 1 percent from their budget requests.

The budget cut will mean the library will no longer be open on Sundays.

With a carry-forward of $600,000 from the city’s surplus leaving the projected fund balance at 11.8 percent of the city’s operating cost, Roy said the city has drained its surplus down to a point of concern. Isgro said that going forward, the city will have to start working to build the surplus back up.

The workshop featured suggestions from the audience about how to bring the budget down going forward, including the consolidation of services with area towns as well as the possibility of bringing tuition-paying foreign exchange students into the district.

Isgro said that the city has to start looking forward with the budget and rely on community conversations about what residents feel are critical city functions they would be in favor of supporting.

“It goes beyond the city council because there needs to be a real serious conversation in the community about what is or isn’t a real core function to be put on the backs of property taxpayers,” he said.

Over the course of the workshop, several residents floated the idea of forming a budget task force to address the long-term concerns this budget season brought to light.

Isgro and Bushee urged residents to attend the council’s budget workshops which start in March to tell the council what they feel should be a priority and what should be cut.

“If you want the answers to that, councilors should go door to door and meet with their constituents to feel the pulse of the city,” Waterville resident Julian Payne said.

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate


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