WATERVILLE — The City Council on Tuesday will consider overriding Mayor Nick Isgro’s veto of a vote councilors took June 19 to approve a $41.9 million municipal and school budget for 2018-19 that represents an 8.3 percent increase in the tax rate.

The meeting is at 7 p.m. in the council chambers on the third floor of The Center at 93 Main St. downtown.

Isgro, who vetoed the budget approval June 21, has said he rejects any budget with a 3 percent or higher tax increase. But to reduce it to 3 percent would require cutting the budget by $900,000, a reduction councilors and some city officials say would significantly impact an already bare bones budget.

Isgro recommends cutting $274,000 from the Alfond Municipal Pool account, $300,000 from the RiverWalk project, $30,000 from the pavement maintenance account and $20,000 from the fire department. He also suggests cutting an already negotiated teacher salary increase from 6 to 3 percent and cutting new school positions, some of which are required by federal law.

Those cuts would mean setbacks for the programs they represent, say city officials and others.

For instance, a $560,000 grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation for the first phase of work to the Alfond Municipal Pool on North Street hinges on the city’s pitching in the $274,000, which is in a special account that was set up several years ago specifically for pool improvements.

Parks and Recreation Director Matt Skehan says he thinks it is important for people to understand that replacing the slide pool, which is unusable and unsafe, represents phase one of a two phase project and phase two would include rebuilding the main pool and kiddie pools. The Alfond Foundation has expressed interest in helping to fund phase two as well, and City Manager Michael Roy says if the city scraps the project, the Foundation would be unlikely to help fund the second phase.

Skehan says he recognizes how tough it is for the mayor and councilors to make hard budget decisions, but he hopes they can come to an agreement about funding the pool which serves hundreds of children and their families on hot summer days.

“The future of that whole facility kind of hinges on what they decide Tuesday night,” Skehan said. “It’s just such a resource for not just residents of Waterville but the whole community. I understand the taxpayers don’t want to be paying for something for people from out of town and I appreciate that problem, but if we don’t have a pool, there will be nine weeks in the summer when literally hundreds of kids will be unsupervised and who knows what they’ll be doing.”

Skehan said the pool has an amazing staff and lifeguards who are wonderful role models for the kids and look out for and support them. The pool, he said, is one of the busiest and most important facilities in the city.

“I’m hired as parks and recreation director to protect, preserve and maintain facilities,” he said. “When I’m advocating for this, I’m doing my job and I’m proud to do that.”

As for the $1.5 million RiverWalk project, City Manager Michael Roy says the $300,000 RiverWalk money the council approved to be used over a 3-year period as part of the budget is new money that comes from taxes the city has never collected before on the two buildings Colby College developed downtown, including the $25 million mixed-use residential complex at 150 Main St. and the building across the street at 173 Main St. that houses CGI Group.

That new money is in a tax increment financing account to be used for the downtown, according to Roy. Each year for three years, $100,000 would be taken from the account for the RiverWalk, he said.

“It is new money — it is money as a result of improvements that have happened,” he said.

Some residents have criticized Roy about using the $300,000 for the project because he said when the RiverWalk project was first discussed that no taxpayer money would be used. But when Roy said that, the project was only an estimated $900,000 project and it grew over time to a $1.5 million project and engineers and architects became involved. The City Council approved spending the $300,000 TIF money for the project.

Lisa Hallee and Roy are co-chairmen of the RiverWalk Advisory Committee. Hallee says the RiverWalk will help draw people to the city — to the downtown in particular.

“I’m very optimistic the city will support the important RiverWalk project which will be good for the revitalization of downtown — and it’s a wonderful project,” Hallee said. “It’s for the people and I’m hopeful that the city will stand behind it.”

Roy says the $30,000 Isgro suggests can be cut from the public works budget also comes from a TIF account — the natural gas pipeline TIF — and the city takes $300,000 annually from that account for pavement maintenance.

“If we don’t approve that money for paving, we have to find other uses for that TIF money and we’re very restricted on what we can use that TIF money for,” Roy said.

City Public Works Director Mark Turner said cutting $30,000 would set the city back as far as paving maintenance.

“It would certainly impact us as far as reducing the amount we could do,” Turner said. “Thirty thousand really isn’t a lot from the standpoint of the millions we spend, but it does reduce our capability to get roads done. It kind of slows us down a little. Over the years we’ve been trying to catch up. We’re not quite there yet. Any setback we have can impact our ability to keep up with necessary work.”

Turner says good roads are a sign of how well a local economy is doing.

“If you have good infrastructure, it gives an image of a strong and vibrant economy,” he said. “It is critical to the local image and economic development efforts that everyone is trying to do.”

The pavement maintenance account is just for pavement maintenance — shim and overlay — and that does not cover reclaims and reconstruction, which involve more extensive work the city funds through bonding, according to Turner.

Regarding Isgro’s recommendation to cut $20,000 from the fire department, Fire Chief David LaFountain, who retired Saturday, said last week that the money is for salaries and wages for part-time firefighters.

The fire department budget previously was cut by $10,000. LaFountain said the budget line for part-time firefighters went up because the minimum wage is going up.

“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 last week. “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.”

SCHOOL POSITIONS, SALARY

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

The new positions in the budget 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 School Superintendent Eric Haley.

Haley and school Finance Director Paula Pooler says those positions are needed as the schools are desperately understaffed to meet student needs.

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. A 4.2 percent increase each was approved for each of the three years. However, given that the budget was already approved for ’17-’18 and included only 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, according to Haley. In 2018-19 schools will be required to pay the 4.2 percent increase that was agreed to, plus the 2.1 percent schools did not pay in ’17-’18, Haley said. 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. 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.

In other matters at Tuesday’s meeting, the council will consider issuing outdoor dining permits for You Know Whose Pub and Itali-ah on The Concourse, and for 18 Below on Silver Street.

Councilors also will consider awarding a contract for work to replace the slide pool at Alfond Municipal Pool, making an amendment to the marijuana moratorium ordinance to extend the moratorium six months for retail sales and changing the zoning at 110 College Avenue to allow for apartments to be developed there.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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