Council approves budget with 4.9 percent increase: The mayor also proposes a workfare program for residents receiving General Assistance.

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The Westbrook City Council on Monday approved the $64.4 million budget for fiscal year 2018.

WESTBROOK — The City Council has given final approval to the $64.4 million budget for fiscal year 2018.

Councilors on Monday night approved the budget, which has an increase of 4.9 percent over the current year. They also approved a first reading of adding a workfare component to the city’s General Assistance program.

The budget, which includes the $36.3 million school budget, was approved 4-2, with council Vice President John O’Hara and Councilor Gary Rairdon opposed. Council President Brendan Rielly recused himself because he works at a law firm the city uses and he didn’t want to create a conflict of interest.

The tax rate will be increasing by 94 cents, or 5.1 percent, due to the budget increase. This brings the rate to $19.34 per $1,000 of assessed value, up from the current rate of $18.40.

The final budget approval includes no additional funding for My Place Teen Center despite pleas from the organization’s president. Donna Dwyer had asked the city for $100,000, but councilors decided to keep the line item flat at $40,000.

“I hope you realize that we do need your help,” Dwyer said Monday night. “Please reconsider.”

A couple other members of the public also spoke in support of the teen center, but councilors had little discussion on the matter. 

Although the overall budget has been approved, the school budget, which is a 3.2 percent increase over the current year, still needs to be approved by voters and will go to referendum June 13. 

Workfare program

Councilors on Monday unanimously approved the first reading of adding a workfare component to the city’s General Assistance program. If it receives final approval in June, the city would adopt the Maine Municipal Association’s Model General Assistance Ordinance.

Adopting this model wouldn’t establish a workfare program, but would give the city the authority to do so if it wanted to. According to City Administrator Jerre Bryant, the city hopes to have a workfare program in place by July 1.

Establishing a workfare program would require people on General Assistance who are able to work to do work for the city and for local nonprofit organizations. Workfare programs are designed to help people gain work experience, gain skills and become self-sufficient.

Bryant said many other communities, including Portland, have workfare programs. He said Westbrook wants to establish one so it can help people reach the point where they don’t need to rely on General Assistance.

“This should not be used to deter people from moving to Westbrook,” he said.

The idea to create a workfare program came from Mayor Mike Sanphy. He said the program is being created “out of fairness to the taxpayers” because of the money the city spends on General Assistance. According to Sanphy’s initial budget presentation this year, the city’s General Assistance spending has “more than doubled in the last five years.”

Sanphy said the program is intended to help people in a fair way.

“I want to make sure we have a fair and equitable program where people in need are taken care of, but people that are able to work should be able to provide for themselves and we should help them do that,” he said.

Most members of the council said they supported the program. O’Hara said it would be beneficial for male immigrants and new Mainers.

“They sit around and go to school and wait for their papers to come so they can become productive people because they’re men,” O’Hara said. “Men only know a few things and one of them is to work every day. I clean the house terribly, you can ask my wife. I don’t clean the house good at all, but I go to work everyday.”

The workfare program, if approved, will be for anyone who’s eligible, regardless of gender. According to Bryant, specific details regarding eligibility and work sites have yet to be determined.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

The Westbrook City Council on Monday approved the $64.4 million budget for fiscal year 2018.

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