City budget approved, school spending sent to voters

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WESTBROOK — City Councilors passed a city budget this week that increases reliance on taxpayers to a level not seen in recent memory. Over the last decade, Westbrook’s tax rate has increased from $16.70 per thousand in assessed valuation in fiscal year 2010 to $19.93, which is among the highest in the southern Maine area.

The $68.4 million spending plan, which was opposed by Councilor Gary Rairdon and Council Vice President John O’Hara, is expected to raise the city’s tax need $1.8 million, or 5.1 percent, and increase the tax rate $1.05 per thousand assessed valuation, or 5.56 percent. This would mean an extra $210 in taxes for a homeowner with a $200,000 home, with the bulk of the extra taxes, $176, going to support the schools.

Rairdon said in “good conscience,” he couldn’t support the budget.

“We have needs and we have wants and in my opinion in these two budgets here, there are some needs and a lot of wants,” he said. “I won’t be supporting this. I think there are adjustments that can be made, both by the City Council and School Committee.”

Rising taxes and increased spending was enough to keep O’ Hara from supporting the fiscal year 2019 budget.

“This is way too much money for us to absorb at once. We used to be an affordable community. Like I have said at the last three budget sessions, we are no longer that affordable community,” O’Hara said.

O’Hara said it is “fundamentally wrong” to put the burden of the city’s increased spending on the backs of the taxpayers.

Lynda Adams, an at-large city councilor, said she has heard from many senior citizens who are concerned with the rising tax bills in the city. 

Mayor Mike Sanphy said the city staff has been looking at how different communities handle local tax relief to “see if there is something we can fit into our community to help not only elderly taxpayers, but low-income taxpayers.” City Administrator Jerre Bryant said it is unlikely that any sort of property tax program can be rolled out for this fiscal year. The program, he said, “would come in the form of a rebate, so the city would have to upfront” the cost of the program, something that is unbudgeted at this point.

While the $28.2 million municipal operating budget was finalized by the council’s action Monday, and the group approved the school’s $38.6 million budget, next month voters will have the final say on school spending.

On June 12, voters will weigh in on the school budget, $20.4 million of which will be supported through property taxes, an 8.3 percent increase over the current budget. The bulk of the school district’s $2.3 million in additional spending is due to contract obligations, security improvements at the high school and the first bond payment for the construction projects at Saccarappa and Westbrook Middle School.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 781-3661 x 125 or mkelley@keepmecurrent.com or on Twitter @mkelleynews

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