WATERVILLE — The City Council voted 6-0 Tuesday to approve a proposed $41.9 million municipal and school budget for 2018-19 that increases the tax rate tax by $1.94 per $1,000 worth of property valuation — an 8.3 percent tax increase.

Mayor Nick Isgro has said he would veto any budget that increases the tax rate by more than 3 percent. He did not say at Tuesday’s meeting that he plans to veto the action, but if he does, he must submit the veto to the city in writing. The council could override such a veto at its next meeting July 3.

Resident Rien Finch stood to ask Isgro what he would recommend the council cut to get the tax increase from 8.3 to 3 percent, a question Isgro has been asked by reporters, but which he has not answered.

Isgro told Finch he would start by saying no to a 6 percent increase for employees in the largest union, apparently referring to school employees. He said there are a lot of things that could be cut. He added that by city charter, it is not his job as mayor to cut the budget. He said the city should lay out before budget discussions each year what the city can tolerate for a budget and stick to it instead of spending money throughout the year and coming to a budget vote in a panic.

“Until we have a firm enough backbone to say, ‘This is what you get because this is what we can afford …'” Isgro said.

He said there are new positions in the city and schools that can be cut but he did not say which positions. At that, Finch asked if Isgro had figures he could present to show how to get the tax increase down to 3 percent.

“That’s actually not my job,” Isgro said, adding that, until the system is changed, the budget process will continue to work the way it has.

“Is this an empty veto threat?” Finch asked. “You know they can’t get to 3 percent and you’re going to veto anyway.”

“I think they can,” Isgro retorted.

An effort in last week’s election to recall Isgro failed by 91 votes, in a 1,563-1,472 vote.

Some Isgro supporters stood Tuesday to congratulate him for not being recalled.

One supporter, Sandra Sullivan, asked if any councilors discussed the budget in meetings that were not attended by the public. Isgro had claimed during the last few weeks that the council was crafting a 13 percent tax increase behind closed doors, which is illegal, but councilors and City Manager Michael Roy said that was not true.

Council Chairman Steve Soule, D-Ward 1, said people ask him what was done differently this year in the budget process; he said it was the exact same process used for the last three years. All the meetings were attended by the city council, mayor and city manager, according to Soule.

“We never had any meetings that the mayor was not at,” he said.

Former eight-year state Rep. Marilyn Canavan stood at the beginning of the meeting to say Roy and councilors were not to blame for the city’s financial difficulties; she said the state is not giving the city the revenue sharing it is owed.

Canavan, the former director of the Maine Ethics Commission, said that years ago the state started the revenue sharing program to help stabilize municipal tax burdens and aid city services and eventually, the revenue sharing started to decrease to municipalities.

Waterville received $2.2 million in revenue sharing in 2007 and six years later, it got $1 million, she said. Over the last 10 years, the city has lost $1.4 million annually, she said.

“So, we’re only getting half the money we were promised,” Canavan said.

She said Gov. Paul LePage, who fought for revenue sharing when he was mayor of Waterville, is “doing an about-face and keeping our money.”

She said he has put $197.8 million in the state’s rainy day fund, or surplus.

“I hope this clarifies why our taxes are likely to increase this year,” Canavan said, urging people to head to Augusta to insist the state restore revenue sharing.

“It is our money, and I thank you all for hearing me out,” she said.

Councilor Winifred Tate, D-Ward 6, was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

City Manager Michael Roy said earlier this week that reducing the proposed budget to 3 percent would require cutting $900,000. He and councilors have said doing that would mean gutting departments. For instance, such a cut might mean transforming the fire department into a volunteer department. Isgro said Tuesday night that police and fire departments would not have to be gutted. He said saying that was way of scaring people.

The council on June 5 voted 7-0 to approve the proposed $41.9 million municipal and school budget for 2018-19. Approval required two votes.

The proposed municipal budget councilors approved Tuesday is $18 million; the proposed school budget is $23.9 million. The tax rate of $23.33 per $1,000 worth of valuation increases to $25.27, so a taxpayer with a home worth $100,000 would pay $2,527 in taxes — an increase of $194.

The budget increase is reflected mainly in increases in insurances and salaries that are determined through collective bargaining. The city took in less revenue this year than last and the city is not getting the revenue sharing from the state that it is owed.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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