WATERVILLE — Two days into the fiscal year, Waterville councilors have edged closer to approving a $42.7 million municipal and school budget for 2019-2020.

In a split decision, councilors opted Tuesday night to shave $113,000 from the initially proposed $42.8 million figure in the first vote. The vote for that cut was 4-3, with Councilors Erik Thomas, Winifred Tate and Margaret Smith opposing. The first vote on the budget as amended was 6-1, with only Thomas still opposing.

The budget will need a second vote at a special meeting next Tuesday to become effective. In the meantime, employees will be paid and municipal operations will continue to be funded until the new budget is adopted. Councilors unanimously voted on June 18 to declare an emergency to keep the city running and avoid a shutdown.

Erik Thomas

At the time, councilors said they wanted to delay the budget votes until after the state approved its two-year budget. Gov. Janet Mills signed an $8 billion budget package June 17 that includes $111 million for kindergarten-through-grade 12 education and $75 million in revenue sharing. But Waterville’s school system still has not received the final figure for its state subsidy, according to Superintendent Eric Haley.

Waterville taxpayers are looking at a tax rate increase of 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. The $113,000 cut, suggested by Chairman Sydney Mayhew, lowered the proposed tax rate increase from 74 cents going into the council meeting Tuesday to an increase of 60 cents. The School Department and the city will share that cut evenly, each being asked to shave $56,500 from the expenditures of their current proposals.

The council also unanimously voted to put $70,000 from the sale of a property on Airport Road toward the city’s 2019-2020 revenue, which City Manager Michael Roy said would decrease the tax rate further, bringing the increase to 50 cents.

Everybody always wants to keep mil rates as low as possible, but we need to make sure we’re budgeting responsibly and setting ourselves up for the future,” Thomas said at the beginning of the budget discussion.

Union and teacher contracts bind us,” Mayhew added. “Eighty-three percent of our budget is tied to personnel. That leaves only a little leeway for the cutting of itemized lines. I’m on the side of compromise — compromise between taking care of the public schools and taking care of what we need as a city.”

Before the budget vote, Councilor Phil Bofia asked Haley and school board members to explain several line item requests in the budget, launching a protracted conversation about the authority of the City Council. Bofia said that after reviewing the school budget, he needed to know more detailed information and hold the school board accountable for what actually is spent where in order to make an informed vote. Haley asserted that councilors are allowed strictly to approve, reject or modify the total school budget and that it is the school board’s responsibility to allocate funding more specifically within the department.

“I think you’re trying to play the wrong ball game,” Haley said to Bofia.

The proposed municipal budget is now $17.8 million, while the School Department’s is $24.7 million. Collectively, the figures pose an increase of $1.7 million from the $41 million budget for the fiscal year that just ended Sunday. The municipal budget is up $660,968 from the previous budget and the school budget is up just under a half million dollars. These figures do not take into account net revenue, Roy said.

Phil Bofia

Eric Haley

“When you take into account revenues, using TIF money, surplus and drug forfeiture money, the net on the city side is $237,500, and on the school side, we don’t know the final number for the revenues,” he said Friday. That number now has decreased to $181,000 with the recently passed budget amendment. Haley said Tuesday that while the school spent less and brought in more than it expected this year, he is in the process of working through the exact numbers and will report back before the second vote next week.

In other matters Tuesday, the council took two votes to sell city-owned land off Airport Road. Councilors voted 7-0 in the final vote to sell Lot No. 5 in the Airport Business Park to Pondwood Self Storage for $70,000. The listing price for the property was $73,000. Pondwood Self Storage plans to build a structure on the site to rent for warehousing or other uses. The sale leaves six lots left in the business park.

The council also took a first vote on selling three undeveloped lots off Airport Road to Leo St. Peter at a rate of $12,000 per acre. At a June 18 meeting, St. Peter said he did not want to pay for a survey of the acreage he wants to buy and that the council said he would be responsible for. On Tuesday, councilors voted 7-0 to approve the sale with the condition that “the city will bear the cost of the survey (about $2,000) if the sale is completed and (St. Peter) will bear the cost if the sale is not completed.” Thomas proposed the amendment.

St. Peter said he plans to pursue getting the land rezoned for industrial use and wants to connect the property with Airport Road to gain access to Interstate 95 and Kennedy Memorial Drive. This would require the city to build a road connecting Mitchell and Airport roads, a project Roy estimated would cost $1 million.

Councilors unanimously voted to table a decision on the sale of a former Sterling Street playground that residents have voiced interest in maintaining themselves.

Councilor Jay Coelho floated the idea of turning the lot into grassy space with benches and raised garden beds.

“We can really save that park and do something (good) in the neighborhood,” he said.

Councilors also voted to extend the expiration of downtown parking permits to Aug. 31, 2019, buying the parking committee two additional months to come up with more permanent solutions for parking management, particularly in The Concourse, where spots are limited to two hours. Joyce Vlodek Atkins, who owns Yardgoods Center, a fiber and crafts store in The Concourse, complained that her business is suffering because customers are receiving parking tickets with fines of upwards of $25 after attending two-and-a-half-hour classes at her shop.

 

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