WINSLOW — The Town Council is leaning toward a municipal budget that would increase the tax rate by 0.75 percent, but some councilors are disagreeing sharply over what amount of spending cuts to local education are acceptable.

“I would suggest that this council has an obligation to ensure that the amount we require taxpayers pay is reasonable and responsible,” Councilor Ken Fletcher said Monday night, when the council took an initial vote to approve a budget. “This budget does not meet that standard. The significant increases in education spending (are) unreasonable and not sustainable.”

Fletcher’s comments were among at times tense discussions between some councilors, who ultimately voted 4-3 in a first vote approving the budget. Those voting against the budget were Fletcher, Ben Twitchell and Jerry Quirion; and those in favor were Steve Russell, Patricia West, Jeff West and Ray Caron.

The council will need to take a second vote on the $23,591,388 budget in order to send it to voters this June; but if it stands, the town’s property tax rate will increase to $17.49 per $1,000 from the current $16.74. A resident living in a $140,000 median-value home will see a $105 increase in the property tax bill.

The budget that was advanced at Monday’s meeting is $72,000 less than the original municipal budget proposal that councilors rejected 3-4 at the start of the meeting.

It took more an hour of a heated back-and-forth among councilors, school board members and the public to come up with that number, with many citing differing views on who or what is to blame for the 6.88 percent increase in the budget.

Fletcher attributed the increase to the education budget — which initially came in at $15,651,142 and asked for additional $678,758 from local taxpayers — and said the school board ignored the council’s several requests to work on the budget together, at one point writing a formal letter so that they could have access to the school budget. He said the council received the school budget too late to be able to make adjustments.

Fletcher also questioned the timing of the increase in salaries of teachers and staff members that would cost $530,000 in next year’s fiscal budget, as well as the dissolution of Alternative Organizational Structure 92, which will create a Winslow superintendent’s office that Fletcher said would cost $133,000 more, compared to last year. School officials have disagreed with Fletcher’s calculation of the superintendent’s cost, saying it was only $97,000 more.

The initial and rejected budget Monday called for an increase from the local share for the education budget of $553,000 — $125,758 less than what the school board requested. Fletcher proposed to cut the increase by $253,000 more and have taxpayers pay $300,000.

Councilor Patricia West, District 1, countered Fletcher’s request, saying what’s driving up the school budget is the expensive nature of the regulations that come with special education.

West asked school board Chairman Joel Selwood if Fletcher’s proposal would include firing teachers, which the council and the board apparently had discussed as the next step if more money needed to be cut from the budget.

Selwood affirmed that the next step would be cuts to programming and personnel.

“For the people who didn’t vote for this budget, (the next cut) is pink-slipping teachers, and I hope they can express that to their constituents and educate them and that will be taken into account in their next election,” she said.

Council Chairman Steve Russell asked why Fletcher was putting the entire increase — which originally would have resulted in a 0.86 percent tax rate increase — solely on the back of the school department. Russell said it was a cumulative effect, and not just the school system, with an increase in their budgets.

Fletcher said it was a direct result of education spending, as the municipal budget was balanced, and he again cited the poor working relationship with the school board.

Russell replied, “With all due respect Ken, I don’t think the cuts you’re proposing are doing a service to our school. I think you’re doing a disservice … to the School Department and the next generation of students who deserve better … and if you think that’s expensive, you can build more jails to take care of the kids who fall through the cracks.”

Peter Thiboutot, the current AOS 92 assistant superintendent and future Winslow superintendent, told the councilors that a cut that deep would devastate the school system.

Earlier in the meeting, during the public comment period, Thiboutot said the situation is affected by a loss in state revenue, increased salaries, and the construction bond. He said these investments eventually would help grow revenue in the town by atracting families to live in Winslow because of its school system.

Fletcher’s amendment failed, 3-4, with Patricia West, Jeff West, Russell and Caron all opposed.

Councilor Jeff West said he would support the budget if the tax rate increase was reduced from the original budget’s 0.86 percent to 0.75 percent. Councilor Ray Caron said he had reservations about cutting that much from the school budget without knowing ramifications of such a cut but would approve it for the first reading until the school board could do the work.

The amendment to cut $72,000 from the original proposal then was approved.

The council also voted 4-3 — with Fletcher, Twitchell and Quirion opposed — in favor of passing the $8.6 million school renovation bond that would close the junior high school and create new space to accommodate the sixth, seventh and eighth grades in the elementary and high school as well as a new high school auditorium and cafeteria expansion along to voters.

“Although there is still a second reading to be voted on by the town council before this gets on the June ballot, I am encouraged that the Winslow voters will get the opportunity to decide this important issue,” Selwood said in a statement after the vote.

The council plans to take a second reading on the school budget on April 23, at the back room of the fire station.

Emily Higginbotham — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @EmilyHigg

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