The Waterville City Council on Tuesday passed a budget that provides some of the tax relief sought by residents.

The real question, however, is what the council will tell those residents next year at this time, when they again come calling for help.

The $37.6 million budget includes $750,000 in cuts from the first spending proposal, which was passed by the council and vetoed by Mayor Nick Isgro. It reduces the tax rate to $22.80 per $1,000 of property value, down from $27.80 last year.

But that only tells part of the story.

Most of the tax-rate reduction — $3.70 out of the $5 — comes from the rise in property valuations caused by the citywide revaluation, which made taxation in the city far more fair but also blindsided some residents with significant tax increases.

Only about a quarter of the savings is from spending cuts made in a last-minute rush, and although they’ll provide some tax relief this year, many are unrepeatable, meaning city and school officials will be in the same place in the next budget cycle, or perhaps worse off.

To reach the cuts ordered after Isgro’s veto, for example, the city will put off the purchase of a new police cruiser and only do half of the scheduled street paving. Those items cannot be put off forever. Eventually, the streets will have to be paved and new cruisers purchased — the budget just makes that next year’s problem.

On the school side, an additional $250,000 from surplus was used, for a total in this budget of $500,000.

That reduced the surplus to 11.9 percent of the budget, below the city’s policy of 12 percent. As a result, the surplus won’t be available to raid to reduce next year’s budget; in fact, the city will likely have to pay into it in the future to build it back up.

Superintendent Eric Haley said without the surplus he would have had to cut 10 teachers or a program such as adult education. If residents demand further reductions, those will be on the table next year.

That shows just how deep further cuts would have to go unless the city can identify some heretofore unknown efficiencies or partnerships. Spending cuts come at a price — Waterville can’t attract new residents and businesses with bad roads, shoddy services and unsupported schools.

That is the challenge facing Waterville — to figure out what cuts the city can stand to make, and what investments it cannot afford to miss.

As the last month has shown, the city cannot wait until next summer to make those decisions, or all it’ll get are more cuts that provide some short-term relief but ultimately hurt the city in the long run.

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