WATERVILLE — The City Council on Tuesday will consider taking a final vote on a proposed $37.6 million municipal and school budget for 2016-17 that would reduce the tax rate by $5, from $27.80 to $22.80 per $1,000 worth of assessed value.

Councilors could make changes to the proposal, which is being considered in light of a citywide revaluation that will result in some people having to pay less taxes than last year, some having to pay more and some having to pay about the same.

The proposed $37.6 million budget is down from the $38 million the council approved July 5, and which Mayor Nick Isgro vetoed the next day. Councilors voted to override his veto July 19; then on Aug. 1, they voted to repeal that override, re-opening budget talks.

Residents have attended recent council meetings to complain about the city’s high tax rate and urge councilors to reduce the proposed budget. Many said they can not afford such high taxes as they struggle to make ends meet. They filed a petition to repeal the council’s override of the veto, but the council repealed the override before the petition was submitted, effectively putting the petitioners’ request into action.

Last week the council held a workshop in which school and city officials, at the recommendation of City Manager Michael Roy, presented proposals to reduce their budgets by $375,000, for a total of $750,000.

City Councilor Steve Soule, D-Ward 1, said Monday that he is comfortable with the new proposal. Officials looked carefully at every department to make changes to the budget, he said.

Decreasing the tax rate from $27.80 to $22.80 is a positive move, according to Soule, who, with Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, voted against overriding Isgro’s veto last month.

“Hopefully, we’ll have all year for every department to look at more savings next year,” Soule said.

Roy said Monday that the $750,000 is not all cuts — it represents a combination of increased revenue and a decrease in expenditures in the proposed budget. Proposed cuts include $36,855 from the police budget, to include loss of a cruiser police had requested; $20,530 from the Fire Department; $82,500 from the city’s capital improvement account, which eliminates about half the pavement projects planned; and $36,500 from public works. The Waterville Public Library volunteered to cut its budget by $23,400. The schools propose using $111,094 in MaineCare revenue they will receive and cutting about $15,850 from the school budget.

The proposed $37.6 million budget reflects a decrease in the city and schools’ surplus account, leaving that account at 11.9 percent of the budget, or about $5.4 million. The city has a policy of keeping it at least 12 percent. Roy said the city is concerned about the amount of money that would be left in surplus with a $37.6 million budget.

“The use of surplus for this year is going to make it difficult for us next year if we don’t have the same amount available, which I don’t think we will,” Roy said Monday. “Therefore, that shortage of surplus a year from now will cause us to have another difficult budget review.”

City Finance Director Chuck Calkins said the proposed $37.6 million budget represents about a $200,000 increase in expenses over the $37.4 million budget the council approved last year, but he explained that the amount of money needed in taxes this year is $16.4 million, whereas last year it was $17.4 million.

“Taxes are going down almost $1 million,” Calkins said.

Calkins said about $1.30 of the $5 decrease in the tax rate is because of budget changes and the remainder, about $3.70, is because of the revaluation.

Isgro said Monday that he thinks the council is on board with the proposed $37.6 million municipal and school budget.

“I think, for acting as fast as we did to try to mitigate some of the effect of the increase due to the revaluation, we ended at a pretty good place,” he said. “Certainly, amendments could happen, but I don’t foresee any changes and I think it would be extremely unlikely that anyone would add money back into the budget. I’ve had a chance to talk to various members of the council. I think everyone feels good about the proposal at this point. I think there’s a unanimous sentiment of where we’re at.”

Councilor Nathaniel White, D-Ward 2, said a lot of departments are at the point where they can not cut any more without cutting personnel, and no one wants to see people lose their jobs.

“Our jobs as councilors is to be the voice of the people, and we have heard the people, loud and clear,” White said. “We heard the people who are upset about this revaluation and we had to do what was necessary to find a common ground with those people. Hopefully, it shows that we heard them loud and clear and we have done our due diligence and tried to answer what they wanted us to do.”

White said all the city departments did a good job cutting their budgets, and the library cut its budget by 5 percent.

“Unfortunately, now the library is going to close on Sundays, which is one of those things where a lot of people go to the library to spend some time there because they have nowhere else to go, and that’s unfortunate,” he said. “I commend Sarah (Sugden, library director,) and the board. It shows they really want to help the city in this tough time.”

White said he knows officials can not make everyone happy but they are aware, now more than ever, of the tax situation in Waterville, and hopefully, they can get the tax rate down to an acceptable level for everyone in the future.

“This is going to be a long-term process to get that mill rate down and it’s not going to happen overnight,” he said.

Meanwhile, the new revaluation figures as of Monday were, for real estate, $1,023,251,400, of which $310,419,600 is exempt; and for personal property, $74,942,600, of which about $20 million is exempt, according to City Assessor Paul Castonguay. Partial exemptions for parsonages, the homestead exemption, veterans, people who are blind and paraplegics total $41,876,000, he said.

Tuesday’s meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the council chambers at The Center downtown and will be preceded by a 6:30 p.m. executive session to discuss Fire Department labor negotiations and a 6:45 p.m. public hearing on a request by Merici Woods Housing to designate Merici Woods Redevelopment a tax increment financing district. Later, the council will consider approving that TIF and adopting a related development plan for the project, which would develop senior housing in a former convent off Chase Avenue.

The council will consider leasing more space to Black Bear Aviation at Robert LaFleur Municipal Airport for an additional tie-down area for aircraft.

Councilors will consider food, liquor and special amusement licenses for Club 656, a new business at the former Champions Fitness building at Elm Plaza; food and liquor licenses for Holy Cannoli on Main Street downtown; and a natural gas easement for 10 Temple Court.

The council also will consider referring to the Planning Board for recommendation a request to rezone 267 West River Road at Thomas College, so that operations there may be expanded.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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