WATERVILLE — City councilors debated at length Tuesday about a proposed $62 million budget for municipal, school and county operations for 2024-25, with some saying it is a reasonable plan and others suggesting further cuts be made to reduce the tax rate or keep it flat.

Four people spoke during a 15-minute public hearing on the proposal, and councilors later spent a good amount of time discussing the budget.

City Manager Bryan Kaenrath gave a quick update, saying the city received two pieces of good budget news this week: The county increase went down from 42% to 31%, and the city is to get an additional $452,000 in state revenue. That, he said, would bring the overall increase in the local budget to a 2.51% increase, which would mean a 50-cent increase in the city’s property tax rate.

With the current proposal, the city’s property tax rate — or mill rate — of $19.90 per $1,000 in assessed valuation would increase to $20.40.

“We feel pretty confident this is a fairly good budget at this point, as far as expenses,” Kaenrath said.

Kaenrath said earlier this week that the proposed budget numbers are in flux and could change as further reductions are made and the city’s revaluation is factored in. The proposed $62 million budget includes $28.4 million for the municipal budget, $32.3 million for schools and $1.35 million for the county.


Mayor Mike Morris called Kaenrath’s report “good news.”

“We see some of these changes are definitely favorable for us, so that is good,” Morris said.

Council Chairwoman Rebecca Green, D-Ward 4, suggested the city use more money from surplus to reduce the budget’s impact on property taxes, because the surplus account is $3 million more than the recommended 12% that the city maintains.

“I think that there are ways that we can deliver a really good budget and a good service to the people of Waterville, and keep the tax increase minimal,” Green said.

For the past five or six years, according to Green, the city has used $2 million of unassigned fund balance, or surplus, for the budget, and has been able to return the money to surplus. She said that gives her confidence the city can safely use more money from that fund.

Councilor Brandon Gilley, D-Ward 1, said he would not support cutting funding for schools or the Police of Fire departments.


“You’ve got to pay people what they’re worth,” he said. “You’ve got to invest in the city, and that means paying people.”

Councilor Ken Gagnon, D-Ward 5, said the city has the highest property tax rate in Kennebec County, and Maine has one of the highest tax burdens in the nation. He said one of his neighbors is going to sell her house and leave the city because she cannot afford the taxes.

Gagnon also said his house backs up to Oakland, and if he lived in that town, his taxes would be considerably less. With the projected tax increase, he said, the typical homeowner in Waterville would pay $150 to $200 more.

He said city councilors are not qualified to take a scalpel to the budget, and proposed creating a line item to every future city budget that says department heads will work together as a team to ensure no tax increase.

“Let’s give it a try,” Gagnon said.

He said later in the meeting that he was not proposing cuts to the budget plan. Instead, he suggested it be passed, but with the line item.


Councilor Thomas Klepach, D-Ward 3, said the City Council has tried such a proposal, and for four years of the COVID-19 pandemic passed a flat budget that led to a 16% increase needed to catch up on deferred maintenance.

Klepach said the road on which he lives looks like Mars, and he is willing to put up with it because of the circumstances, but it will eventually cost much more to tear out the road and repair it than if it had had regular maintenance.

“I think that 2½% is a very reasonable budget,” he said.

Klepach said councilors listened as each department head explained his or her proposed budget, and he heard nothing unreasonable.

Councilor Tom McCormick, an independent representing Ward 7, said the city is a service center, has 13 to 15 square miles and a third of the city is tax-exempt.

“Fifty cents is beating the living fool out of what we started with — 9%,” McCormick said of the proposed increase.


Councilor Flavia DeBrito, D-Ward 2, said she understands the burden for people living on fixed incomes. She asked Kaenrath if there is another option for lowering taxes.

Kaenrath said he has a list of options for possible cuts, and part of Tuesday night’s budget discussion was to gauge city councilors’ opinions of the plan.

“If there’s a discussion to go more, we can,” he said of additional cuts. “Obviously, anything is on the table.”

Councilor Rien Finch, D-Ward 6, said he thinks the city got lucky with state revenue sharing this year and being able to use money from the city’s fund balance, but if things go badly next year in Augusta, the city could face more challenges.

The council, Finch said, has a responsibility to residents to ensure the government is as effective as possible, which includes looking at positions and the size of government. He suggested exploring whether the city needs two code enforcement officers, the possibility of cutting positions in the city clerk’s office, curbing public library hours and exploring whether the assistant city manager’s position should be cut.

Klepach said the council has already had those hard discussions. Before a second person was hired in code enforcement, councilors heard testimony that the city was leaving revenue on the table and that code enforcement was unable to meet all its responsibilities.


Mayor Morris said the council is expected to take a first vote on the proposed budget June 4, and if councilors have ideas for changes to the budget, that would be the time to bring them up.

Inflation has driven increased costs, including for fuel, vehicle parts and other maintenance needs, according to Kaenrath. The biggest cost is in personnel, and increases are built into labor contracts. The cost-of-living increase for nonunion employees is 3%, which is less than increases in previous years.

At the public hearing Tuesday, resident Jennifer Johnson and Cassie Julia, a member of the Planning Board, urged councilors to support the school budget.

Gagnon read aloud a statement from a constituent who said he enjoys living in Waterville, which he said is growing and thriving, but something must change and the council must hold the line on any tax increases.

Former City Councilor Phil Bofia said people are struggling, and he urged the City Council not to increase property taxes.

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