AUGUSTA — City councilors approved a $62.7 million city and school budget Thursday that is expected to increase property taxes by just under 3 percent.

City Manager William Bridgeo’s initial $63 million budget proposal would have increased taxes by 6.6 percent, but changes proposed recently brought the tax increase down to just under 3 percent.

The budget as approved is expected to result in a tax rate of $20.97 for every $1,000 of property value. That, in turn, would result in a tax increase for the owner of an approximately $105,000 home in Augusta of $72.

Debate Thursday focused on an amendment, which eventually passed in a 4-3 vote, to cut $300,000 from the school budget.

A $300,000 cut in school spending was a key piece of the reduction in the impact of the budget on taxpayers.

School officials argued they should be allowed to take the $300,000 from the schools’ fund balance, a surplus-like account made up of funds unspent in previous years, which would still have allowed for a reduction in the tax impact.

However city councilors who voted for the amendment cutting that $300,000 from the school budget, instead of taking it from fund balance, said they were concerned whatever money collects in the schools’ fund balance account will be needed to offset budget difficulties in future years.

“I’m hopeful there won’t be cuts in the classroom as a result of this vote,” said Ward 2 Councilor Darek Grant, who said he supports the school system and is proud to have attended it himself, as his two kids do now. “But I think having this possible money in the days ahead may be worth it.”

The school department already used all of its previous roughly $1.3 million fund balance to help fund the budget. But Superintendent James Anastasio said he is “more than confident” the fund balance will be replenished, to about 3 percent of the budget, or around $900,000, by the end of the year, compared to what was budgeted this year.

Last year, when Augusta received more funding for education from the state than expected, after the school budget had already been approved, about $267,000 was set aside by the city council to be used for education if needed and if the school board asked for the funds. The board has not asked for the funds. So now, unless it is applied to the proposed budget for next year, the $267,000 would go into the schools’ fund balance account.

Edward Hasting, school board chairman, said Wednesday using that $267,000 would nearly accomplish the goal of reducing the impact of next year’s budget on property taxpayers, without requiring staff, programs or purchases to be cut from the school budget. However councilors rejected the schools’ bid to use that money, as part of fund balance, for the proposed budget, and instead ordered the $300,000 in cuts.

Some councilors previously suggested eliminating from the school budget the planned purchase of air conditioning for the three city elementary schools that have second floors, meant to address concerns about high ambient classroom temperatures near the end of the school year, at a cost of about $70,000 per school, and looking into getting social work services from the state rather than adding two social workers for elementary schools.

Anastasio said in a memo to board members if the schools are forced to cut expenses, he’d recommend keeping all existing and proposed personnel in the budget, and cutting the air conditioning, which could account for a large chunk of the $300,000 budget cut ordered by councilors Thursday.

Wednesday night school board members voted to stand behind the $30.8 million budget they approved in late March, rather than cut the requested $300,000.

City councilors, last week, said they wanted $300,000 cut from the school budget, to help limit the impact on taxpayers of the combined, approximately $62.7 million city and school budget. The proposed cut was part of a series of proposed changes to City Manager William Bridgeo’s initial, $63 million budget proposal, and would bring the tax increase required to fund the budget down from the previous 6.6 percent to a just under 3 percent increase.

In Augusta, city councilors approve the total city and school budget, and determine how much tax dollars the schools receive, but don’t have authority, beyond setting the total amount, to change how the school budget is spent.

That authority belongs to the school board.

The full initial city budget proposal is on the city’s website, and the school budget is likewise viewable on the school department’s website.

The school budget must also be approved by voters citywide, in a June 12 budget validation referendum.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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