WATERVILLE — Sidestepping recent recommendations from the school board to include two teacher aides and security cameras for Waterville Senior High School, the City Council took a first budget vote Tuesday night, unanimously approving a proposed $40 million municipal and school budget for 2017-18 without those education requests.

Mayor Nick Isgro had warned earlier he would veto a budget proposal that included those $75,000 school spending requests, which the Board of Education signaled support for on Monday.

The council, which voted 7-0 Tuesday on an initial vote in favor of the budget, must take another vote to finalize the budget and is expected to consider that second vote at its Tuesday meeting. It was standing room only as about 80 people packed the council chambers Tuesday to listen to the budget debate and, in some cases, air their concerns.

As part of the vote, the council approved cutting about $262,500 from City Manager Michael Roy’s originally recommended municipal budget of $18,559,623. Councilors also voted to approve two additions totaling $181,700 — the cost of a new recycling truck and videotaping for council meetings.

Proposed city spending cuts include the reduction of a new code enforcement officer position from full time to half time, $50,000 in paving, eliminating purchase of two police cruisers, reducing a proposed cost of living increase for city employees and reducing the city’s contribution to health insurance.

The city’s finance director, Heather Rowden, said after the meeting Tuesday that the budget the council approved represents a 3.1 percent, or a $1.1 million, increase from the $39 million budget councilors approved for 2016-17.

If the same budget is approved next Tuesday, the current tax rate of $22.80 per $1,000 worth of valuation would increase by 53 cents, or to $23.33 per $1,000, according to Rowden.

The school board on Monday morning met to vote on a proposed school budget amount, and board members approved proposed cuts and added two items into the budget — two teacher aide positions and surveillance cameras for the high school. The two education technician III positions would cost $60,000 and the cameras $15,000, for a total of $75,000.

Those school spending additions, though, drew quick concern from Isgro, who posted to Facebook Tuesday an email he had sent to councilors earlier in the day saying he encouraged councilors to “vote on and pass the budget exactly as it was presented and agreed to last week.” Isgro took swipes at school board members, who he said had “ambushed” schools Superintendent Eric Haley with the proposed changes and had taken “a combative stance.”

He wrote that because a proposed budget was brokered in good faith, last-minute changes would undermine the mutual trust built during negotiations.

“Any changes to the budget as agreed to last week will be met with a budget veto,” he wrote.

The “agreement” Isgro referred to, though, involved private discussions he and City Manager Michael Roy and Council Chairman Steve Soule, D-Ward 1, had with councilors and others, individually or in small groups, to come up with a budget that would ensure school funding and provide tax relief. Those discussions were not held in public.

Soule explained earlier Tuesday that a final budget total really could not be developed until recently because the city did not know how much money the state would give to Waterville schools.

Roy also said earlier Tuesday that the discussions held last week that resulted in a proposed budget amount were based on the assumption that the numbers would not change, but Haley had made it clear that he could not say for certain what the school board would do with the numbers. As it turned out, the school board made changes during its Monday morning meeting.

Haley said at Tuesday night’s council meeting that he had “made no agreement” on what the numbers in the budget would look like — that he has no authority to make such an agreement. The school board, he said, determines the school budget.

He also said school officials had been working on the budget with a moving target, not knowing when the state would release information about how much money schools would get for funding and when the council would meet to take a first vote on the budget.

“I don’t think that it’s fair to say the board did this at the last minute,” Haley said of the school board’s actions Monday.

Several residents Tuesday night said they support hiring two educational technicians and buying security cameras for the high school.

School board member Susan Reisert said Wednesday in a phone interview that she was told officials are going to make an effort to find the $75,000 to include the education technicians and the cameras in the budget before the vote next week, and she hopes the council is serious about that because the school board has serious concerns about it.

“I’ve heard from a couple of city councilors that they have a plan, and I’m going to trust that, and I’ll be there next week to see what happens. I think it’s important to recognize a lot of different people are elected to office and we all have different roles to play and … I think that should be respected.”

She said she sent an email to Isgro about his Facebook post because she was upset that the school board actions on Monday were taken with such rancor.

The school board met Monday to vote on the proposed school budget, and for Isgro to “come out with such strong words against the school board, I think, it’s just really disrespectful. I think we all wish for a process that has more time to it. And I understand we met Monday and the City Council was to meet on Tuesday, and we’re all trying to get this done after the delay in the state Legislature; but still, the numbers Nick and the City Council got last week were Eric Haley’s numbers, and they weren’t endorsed by the school board. There has to be recognition that those were draft numbers.”

Reisert emphasized that she was not criticizing Haley, as he and the school finance director, Paula Pooler, and administrators worked hard on the budget.

“Seventy-five thousand dollars is not a big number, and it’s certainly just a drop in the bucket,” she said.

Reisert added that Isgro’s Facebook message was disheartening.

“He’s using a lot of language about unity and people working together, and he ought to follow his own advice,” she said.

Parent Tom Ferris said at Tuesday night’s council meeting that someone who owns a $300,000 home would pay $30 more if the additions were made in the budget.

“Isn’t a $30-a-year difference worth it for our children?” he asked.

Councilor Nick Champagne, R-Ward 5, said he went door-to-door last November and the average age of voters in his ward is 66. He said there are a number of single homeowners on fixed incomes, and they can not afford a higher property tax.

“Going up even the slightest bit would make a big difference to them,” Champagne said.

But parent Lisa Evans said the school resource officer is not in the high school five days a week — he is shared among the schools — and there is a large chunk of time when inappropriate behavior occurs in the high school.

She said security cameras would make a big difference in that respect.

“That $75,000, to me, to get those ed techs and the security cameras is important,” Evans said.

Lisa Hallen said that, as a guidance counselor, she knows a resource officer can be a good friend and advocate; but when he is in the gymnasium, he can’t be in the cafeteria. If a student makes a bomb threat, the camera can pinpoint who made it; if someone writes on the school walls, the camera will catch it; and when students allege bullying is occurring in the halls, the camera will detect that, Hallen said.

Former City Councilor Erik Thomas, who has announced he’ll seek the Democratic nomination for mayor against Isgro, said he has friends who are parents and they are concerned about the perception that the schools are under attack, and they are considering moving out of the city.

“It’s a slippery slope if we start driving those people out of town, because that’s just going to make things worse,” he said.

But Isgro also said he has spoken to a lot of middle-age blue-collar workers who said they will move if taxes continue to rise. “That is not anecdotal,” he said.

Isgro said city officials and councilors have worked hard to develop a budget and ensure the city’s and schools’ needs are met.

“It’s a balance and it’s not an either-or — you have to look out for both,” he said.

Over the next week, before a final budget is decided, people will have time to consider if they want to make budget changes and discuss how that could be done, Isgro said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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