WATERVILLE — The City Council voted 5-0 Tuesday to declare an emergency to preserve the public health and safety and authorize city officials to spend money for the city and schools until an effort to repeal the budget is resolved.

About 25 people showed up in the council chamber for the meeting, at which Councilor Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, sought to convince councilors to re-open the budget, saying there would be “serious, catastrophic consequences” if the budget issue goes to a referendum.

“We have to take the lead and we have to govern,” Mayhew said.

He proposed the city and schools each cut $100,000 from their budgets.

But resident Tom Ferris, of the group Friends of Waterville Public Schools, asked Mayhew how much of a difference those cuts would make to taxpayers. Mayhew said it would reduce the tax rate 20 to 30 cents per $1,000 of assessed property valuation.

“This is complete politics; it’s all it is,” Ferris responded, later adding, “I think it’s disgusting.”

Mayhew earlier had said he thought both sides could make cuts that would not harm the schools or city, but Councilor John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, disagreed. He said that for the past eight or 10 years the city has been eating away at its fund balance to make ends meet and finally decreased the 2018-19 budget by using money the city got from ending its contract with Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. and through investments by Colby College.

The city’s peculiarities, including its small size and a high number of nonprofit organizations that do not pay taxes, adds to the issue, he said, and it is not possible to decrease the budget more without a big cut such as getting rid of the Fire Department.

“I don’t think the people — the majority of the people — wants that, and I’m not going to support reopening the budget,” O’Donnell said.

Councilor Winifred Tate, D-Ward 6, was absent from Tuesday’s meeting; Councilor Lauren Lessing, D-Ward 3, also was absent but announced several weeks ago she was leaving the council and city this month to move to Iowa.

Councilors voted on July 3 to postpone indefinitely considering approving the emergency funding for city and schools.

Mayor Nick Isgro vetoed the $41.9 million city and school budget that councilors had approved unanimously June 19.

Petitioners are seeking to re-open the budget process, and while their repeal effort is in process, the budget is not in effect.

The $41.9 million city and school budget for 2018-19 increases the tax rate tax by $1.94 per $1,000 worth of property valuation — an 8.3 percent tax increase.

On Friday, resident Eric Chamberlain filed an affidavit with City Clerk Patti Dubois’ office to start the petitioning process. The affidavit is signed by Chamberlain and residents Normand Veilleux and Henry D. Poirier.

Their deadline for submitting 857 signatures to the city clerk’s office is 5 p.m. July 24. After that, Dubois has 10 working days — until Aug. 7 — to certify the signatures, and if they are sufficient, the matter goes to the City Council.

Councilors could reconsider their action to override the mayor’s veto and reconsider the budget or they could decide not to do so, in which case, the budget would go to voters in the form of a referendum, according to Dubois.

She said there is no clear direction about what the referendum would ask voters.

Isgro vowed during the budget process that he would veto a budget that raised taxes more than 3 percent. To reach that 3 percent, $900,000 more would have to be cut from the budget.

Laliberte Strategies issued a news release Friday announcing the petition. It says, “City councilors have failed to listen to pleas of residents asking them to make cuts in the budget.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

filed under: