WATERVILLE — Mayor Nick Isgro made a false statement when he claimed in a Facebook post that city councilors are working behind the scenes to craft a budget with a 13 percent property tax increase, City Manager Michael Roy and City Council Chairman Steve Soule, D-Ward 1, said Monday in a prepared statement.

Isgro on Friday had invited statewide media to a Monday “press briefing regarding current events with an important announcement concerning Waterville’s future,” but after that press conference at Head of Falls, he ignored reporters’ questions about his 13 percent tax increase claim, walked off and drove away in his car.

At the conference, Isgro talked about how newspaper headlines referring to efforts to recall him are distracting from all the good work happening in Waterville, including downtown revitalization and new businesses coming to the city. He said it is time for the divisiveness to end and for the city to get back to work.

“This is not who we are and that’s not who we’re going to be,” he said.

On Saturday, Isgro posted a lengthy message on his mayoral Facebook page, saying councilors “have been quietly crafting a budget proposal to increase property taxes by a whopping 13 percent via a 3.1 increase in the mill rate, bringing us to $26.43 per $1,000,” the post says.

“That is a false statement,” City Manager Michael Roy said Monday in a phone interview concerning Isgro’s statement.

Roy said his manager’s proposed budget to the council calls for a 13 percent property tax increase, but the budget process is not yet completed and the council is still in the budget workshop process. The manager’s budget typically is larger than what the council approves.

The budget process starts in January and February each year when department heads go to the city manager and the manager works with them on their budgets, according to Roy. The budgets, presented to the council in March, represent the manager’s recommendation of what each department should get, he said.

When department heads meet with the council, the department heads may say they asked for a certain amount of money but the city manager recommended a different amount, or the manager agreed with the department head request, Roy said.

Then department heads meet with the council in budget workshops to discuss their budgets. The mayor, as part of that person’s duties outlined in the city charter, delivers a budget message with his thoughts and recommendations.

The council makes the ultimate decision on the budget.

“Until we are through all the meetings with department heads, it’s still my budget being presented,” Roy said Monday.

When it becomes the council’s budget, councilors can make changes as they see fit, he said.

“That’s the message that I hope people understand, is that budget can change,” Roy said. “We have not yet finished our review at this time, including the school budget. We have not yet finalized the review with every department head, and we have two more meetings to do the review and wrap up — May 22 and May 29.”

He said that last year’s budget process was similar in that the proposed budget would have increased the tax rate more, but the city used $1.8 million from surplus money to fill the gap.

The city’s policy is that its surplus not dip below 12 percent of the budget approved the previous year; thus, Roy could not put any surplus money into his proposed budget because the surplus is a little under $5 million and he can not violate that policy, he said.

Meanwhile, Roy and Soule issued a joint statement Monday after Isgro’s press conference saying they wanted to set the record straight about a story the Morning Sentinel reported Sunday concerning Isgro’s Facebook comments on the proposed budget.

“The article correctly states that the budget was first presented to the Mayor and the City Council in early March,” it says. “That was 2 months ago — long before any of the current unrest in City government. At this point in time, the budget is still a City Manager budget. The Mayor’s statement that ‘the City Council has been quietly crafting a budget proposal to increase property taxes’ is false.”

The Council has held four open public meetings since March 27, according to the release. Final votes on the budget are scheduled for June 5 and 19. All budget meeting dates were on a schedule given to Isgro and councilors in February, it says.

“To suggest, as the Mayor did, that meetings are being planned with the recall in mind is wrong. There have been no such discussions. Review of the budget began long before any recall efforts.”

Isgro is correct in saying that the city is facing a budget increase and that increase is a “direct result of the loss of ‘one-time’ funds that were used last year,” the release says.

“At that time the tax rate was kept artificially low by using $1.8 million in funds that are no longer there. This was approved by the council and mayor. Next year’s budget proposes using $460,000 — a decrease of $1,346,500 from last year. That amount is the main culprit behind a tax increase — not some Council conspiracy to remove anyone from office. The Mayor has had the proposed budget since early March. What are his suggestions for reducing the increase?”

Isgro’s Facebook post says “political elites both on the city council and behind the scenes are colluding with political parties and special interest groups from outside Waterville on the proposed budget and tax increase. He also said the recall effort is intended to oust him from office so he can not veto a council vote on the budget.

However, councilors Winifred Tate, D-Ward 6, and Jackie Dupont, D-Ward 7, said they have not been quietly working on a budget proposal with a proposed 13 percent increase — that they have been attending budget workshops, which are open to the public, and listening to department proposals and no budget decision has been made.

At Monday’s press conference, Isgro said a 13 percent increase is not acceptable or compatible with what the city is trying to achieve and he will be spending the next months working on the budget. Property taxpayers, including those on a fixed budget, cannot afford such an increase, according to Isgro.

“We want a Waterville that works for all Waterville’s people,” he said.

The recall effort started when Isgro tweeted a message on social media to Florida school shooting survivor David Hogg, telling the high school student to “Eat it, Hogg.”

Isgro on Monday cited business moves in the city including Tracy and Tom Nale Jr.’s purchase of the Arnold Block downtown, Central Maine Growth Council and Colby College putting free wifi downtown, R.J. Anzelc developing work space in the Hathaway Creative Center, Waterville Creates!’ procuring a $75,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant to plan for re-designing Castonguay Square downtown and the manufacturing resurgence at Trafton Road.

“Recent headlines and distractions don’t change the fact that this is an incredible time to be living and working here,” Isgro said.

He said Waterville is setting the example and leading the way in creating good-paying jobs that “allow our residents to raise their families and live the American dream.”

“It’s time to look past the distractions and get these stories back on the front page,” he said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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