WATERVILLE — Mayor Nick Isgro on Thursday vetoed a $41.9 million city budget that represents an 8.3 percent tax increase and suggested ways he thinks the budget can be cut, but new school positions he targeted are either required by federal law or added because of increased student enrollment and other recommended reductions would harm Fire Department operations and jeopardize plans to renovate the municipal pool, among other things.

“I stand committed to working with the City Council at taking an additional look at the city budget both to get the enormous increase to taxpayers down this year, but also to set the stage for preventative measures going into next year,” the mayor wrote in his veto message posted to his mayoral Facebook page and submitted in writing to the city.

Isgro recommends cutting funding for all newly created positions in the school budget, for a total of $365,589; and proposes reducing a 6 percent pay increase for school employees to 3 percent, though those increases have already been negotiated and cannot be changed.

He also recommends cutting $30,000 from the paving budget and $20,000 from the Fire Department and transferring $274,000 from a fund for the municipal pool to the general fund and eliminating or downscaling plans to put in a new slide at the pool.

School Superintendent Eric Haley said Thursday, when asked to comment on Isgro’s recommended school cuts, that the teacher pay increases can not be changed. “We can’t do it. We’ve got a signed contract,” Haley said.

The new positions in the budget, which total $365,589, are two educational technician IIs at George J. Mitchell School, a social worker at Albert S. Hall School, an educational technician II for Waterville Junior High School, a resource teacher at Waterville Senior High School, an additional science teacher at the alternative school and a business teacher at the high school, according to Haley.

Haley and school Finance Director Paula Pooler explained Thursday that those positions are needed.

“We were desperately and drastically understaffed to meet student needs,” Haley said.

He and Pooler said the ed tech IIs at the Mitchell School, which total $83,476, including salaries and benefits, are required by special education federal law based on student numbers; the social worker at the Hall School, for $60,093, is needed because of a substantial increase in student mental health and behavior problems; the junior high ed tech for $41,738 is required for increased student numbers; the resource teacher at the high school for $60,093 is required by special education federal law, based on student numbers; the alternative education science teacher for $60,093 is needed because of increased student numbers; and the high school business teacher, for $60,093, is necessary to increase course offerings to fulfill student requirements. Those salary totals all include benefits.

In 2017-18 the Waterville Board of Education negotiated a three-year contract, starting in the 2017-18 school year, according to Haley.

“We agreed to a 4.2 percent increase each of the three years. However, given that our budget was already approved for ’17-’18 and it only included a 2 percent increase for teachers, the teachers agreed to not start the new contract until halfway through the year, thus keeping the schools cost within budget. In 2018-19 we will be required to pay the 4.2 percent increase that was agreed to, plus the 2.1 percent we did not pay in ’17-’18. In the ’19-’20 school year, the teachers contract will rise 4.2 percent.”

Pooler and Haley said that, even with the negotiated increases in teacher pay, Waterville teachers are the lowest-paid of those in seven surrounding communities.

“We lost a teacher yesterday from the alternative school who went to Augusta for $10,000 more, and that’s with the increases,” Haley said.

Pooler said the reason the increases were negotiated in the first place is that the schools were losing teachers to other communities, and sometimes the district could not hire the first, second and sometimes the third choices.

Haley said a survey at the high school showed one of the big concerns is that a large percentage of students are not actively engaged in studies.

Mayor Nick Isgro presides over a meeting at the City Council Chambers at The Center on Tuesday. The City Council approved the $41.9 million budget unanimously. Isgro vetoed the budget Thursday. Staff file photo by Michael G. Seamans

Isgro supporter Julian Payne, a member of the Waterville Board of Education, says he stands by the school budget as it is because the pay increases for teachers “still puts us below market rate with all surrounding communities.”

“As a board member from Ward 5, I can’t deny the market forces. We are considerably below all the surrounding areas.”

Payne said the six new teacher positions in the budget are “sorely needed.”

Originally, the board was looking at 12 new positions but decided it could not afford 12, so it cut that number down to the most critical six and cut $300,000 from the budget, Payne said.

However, Payne thinks the city budget could be reduced by cutting the $274,000 for the pool and taking $300,000 from the RiverWalk. He maintains that City Manager Michael Roy promised no taxpayer money would be spent on the RiverWalk. But Roy said Thursday that the $300,000 is all from the downtown tax increment financing account and all from new money generated from two Colby College projects on Main Street — the new residential complex and the 173 Main St. building Colby renovated.

“That TIF money has to be spent in the downtown district and is over a three-year period,” Roy said.

Roy also responded to Isgro’s veto Thursday, saying that the council could move the $274,000 from the municipal pool account to the general fund, but getting the $560,000 grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation is contingent on the city’s $274,000 contribution. The Alfond Foundation told the city it would be interested in helping to fund more repairs to the large pool itself next year, but Roy said the foundation probably would not do so if the city were to say it does not want to accept the $560,000 grant for the slide pool.

“We’d have to let the Alfond Foundation know we’re not interested in receiving the $560,000,” he said.

The council on Tuesday voted 6-0 to award a $762,702 contract to Vortex Aquatic Structures International for replacement of the slide pool at the Alfond Municipal Pool and authorized Roy to enter into a contract with Vortex for the work to be done.

Roy said he will not sign the contract with Vortex until after the council meets July 3 to consider overriding Isgro’s veto in case the pool repair project does not happen. If the council decides not to fund the pool project, it would have to rescind the vote it took Tuesday.

The city set up the pool reserve account at least five years ago specifically for pool projects, according to Roy.

As to Isgro’s suggestion that $30,000 be cut from the paving budget, Roy said he did not think that is a good idea.

“For a number of years, we have not been allocating enough money for regular, annual paving needs, and this will put us even further behind,” he said.

Isgro’s suggestion to cut $20,000 from the Fire Department budget also did not sit well with Roy.

“We already cut it by $10,000, so this would be $30,000 from the department request,” Roy said. “That’s worrisome, that we’d be establishing a budget that’s not realistic. The key is we’ve already cut $10,000 from that.”

Fire Chief David LaFountain echoed Roy’s stance on Isgro’s idea to cut the Fire Department budget, saying the money is for salaries and wages for part-time firefighters.

“That logic fails because that line is going up, because the minimum wage is going up,” LaFountain said. “That line is already spent … unless we don’t have any calls.”

LaFountain, who will retire June 30, said the new chief, Shawn Esler, will have to deal with such issues, and it can be tough.

“The only place I can cut is training, and you can’t do that very long before you start having negative effects on how well the department is running,” LaFountain said. “Once you get it cut, you’re not going to get it back. I tell people to call their legislators to try to get them to put the revenue sharing back where it belongs, because that’s where the problem is. It’s not that we’re overspending.”

Council Chairman Steve Soule, D-Ward 1, said Thursday that with new ideas about the city budget coming out, people need to weigh in now more than ever.

“With suggestions to cut from the city pool, from fire, and from schools, your voice is important,” Soule said in an email. “Opinions to cut and opinions to not cut are equally critical to the council.”

Isgro had said he would veto any budget that represented more than a 3 percent tax increase. To cut the budget from 8.3 percent to 3 percent, $900,000 would have to be cut from the budget.

Isgro’s veto memorandum also includes suggestions for changing the city budget process to start one year in advance, exploring the cost of privatizing some city functions, working with nonprofits to “create a fair fee structure for excessive use of city services,” and hiring a consultant to review the way the city is operating and ensure efficiencies.

Isgro encouraged residents to support him in a recent recall election, saying he would ensure a minimal property tax increase if he was not recalled. Isgro survived the recall in a 1,563-1,472 vote — a difference of 91 votes.

City councilors on Tuesday unanimously approved the proposed $41.9 million budget as Isgro criticized the way the budget process works and said officials should start with an amount the city can live with and tell department heads to not come to the council with budgets more than that total.

Isgro also has faced pressure to give specific suggestions on what could be trimmed from the budget to reduce the tax burden, something he had not done until Thursday.

Staff writer Rachel Ohm contributed to this report.