WATERVILLE — Mayor Nick Isgro has issued a budget message to city councilors urging them not to approve a tax increase for 2017-18, saying the proposed preliminary municipal budget would increase the tax rate by $2.17 per $1,000 worth of valuation.

The mayor’s message comes as the City Council is scheduled to hold a special meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the council chambers at The Center to review proposed budgets for finance, health and welfare, planning, code enforcement, economic development and the fire department.

Isgro’s message, dated Friday, says the budget process is just beginning and much work needs to be done before presenting a final budget.

Isgro — who vetoed the initial city budget proposal the last two years over tax concerns — urges city officials to keep in mind that they volunteered to be public servants and should remember those they serve.

“In doing that, we will see clearly that increasing the tax burden at the current time is not an outcome that we can accept,” his message says.

The proposed municipal and school budget for 2017-18 is $39.7 million, a $928,261 increase over the $38.8 million budget for 2016-17. With a $2.17 per $1,000 increase, the current $22.80 tax rate would increase to $24.97.

If a person’s home is worth $100,000, for instance, he or she paid $2,280 in property taxes. If the proposed budget were to be approved as is, he or she would pay $2,497 — an increase of $217.

City Manager Michael Roy has said increases in the municipal budget stem from increased insurance, salary and benefit costs, and paving and capital improvement projects the city proposes to do that have been put off. The schools do not yet have information about state revenues, so school numbers are preliminary and expected to change.

Isgro notes in his budget message that 80 percent of the proposed spending increase is for capital improvements and road paving, and that the council’s first task should be “to investigate what items on the list of proposed capital spending projects are ‘dire necessities’ vs. ‘would be nice to have.'”

“Often throughout the course of Waterville’s history, these two things have become confused,” he writes.

Isgro says that, as salaries and benefits increase and negotiations for three union contracts approach, city officials should keep in mind that “new avenues” must be found to keep overall costs to residents and business owners down.

Most city residents last year saw “enormous increases” in their property taxes because of a city-wide revaluation and more than 100 residents turned out at council meetings, including older people on fixed incomes who were seeking relief, Isgro says in his message.

“Regressive by nature, when property taxes increase, those hit hardest are those who are the most vulnerable among us. With roughly a quarter of our population 55 and older, Waterville should take seriously the needs of those living on fixed incomes.”

He notes that school officials report many families who own homes are living in poverty, and food insecurity is a fact of life in the city.

“When a revaluation caused many of these homes’ tax bills to skyrocket 30-50 percent after being passed in mid-August — just 7 months ago — do we believe that these struggling seniors and families have had enough time to adjust to last year’s increase, let alone ask for even more?”

Isgro said the city stands on the verge of a renaissance with ongoing downtown revitalization efforts, the future opening of the Trafton Road interchange at Interstate 95, new jobs being announced and more to come. People are optimistic about the future, and the changes “will alleviate some of our pain. We must, however, remember why and who we are doing this for. If we cannot ensure that our current residents can continue to live out their lives in their homes, our work will be all for naught.”

Over-taxation should not be what people fear most, according to Isgro.

“When looking at the budget and tax rates, do not ask what can be afforded by your most affluent constituents, but rather who can least afford this change to their annual budgets.”

He cautions officials not to turn tough budget discussions into an “us vs. them’ situation, “whether it is amongst ourselves or with those on various sides of this discussion in our community. We are, even in disagreement, one Waterville.”

School officials have said that with about 80 percent of the budget represented in salaries and benefits, the only place to cut is positions. At a community educational forum held Wednesday at Waterville Senior High School, Superintendent Eric Haley said that teachers and staff are burning out. He said the school budget has increased only about $400,000 in 17 years, and Waterville spends less per pupil than surrounding communities.

Waterville schools can not continue to operate in the way they have, with teachers and staff doing more with less, according to Haley.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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