BIDDEFORD – Mayor Alan Casavant has vetoed the municipal and school budgets approved by the City Council, halting next week’s citywide referendum on education spending.

A motion to override Casavant’s veto Thursday failed by a vote of 5-4. A two-thirds majority — six votes — is needed to override a veto.

The municipal and school budgets approved by the City Council, totaling $59.9 million, called for a 5.4 percent increase over the current budgets. The budgets for the fiscal year starting July 1 would have added $1.33 to Biddeford’s property tax rate, requiring the owner of a $200,000 home to pay an additional $266.

Casavant said Friday that he got phone calls and emails from residents who were concerned about the property tax increase.

“I thought at least I could stop the process and demand further consideration,” he said. “I recognize the school budget didn’t get quite the same scrutiny as did the city side of the budget.”

Casavant said the council should consider cutting $380,000 from the school budget and reducing the fire department’s budget.

“I don’t care where the money comes from, I just want to knock it down to make it more affordable to taxpayers,” he said.

The referendum on the $32.9 million school budget, scheduled for Tuesday, won’t be held until the council reconsiders and approves another budget proposal. The proposal that Casavant rejected was up 6.3 percent from this year.

Absentee ballots already returned to the city clerk’s office for the school budget referendum will be destroyed, said City Clerk Carmen Morris.

City Councilor Melissa Bednarowski, who made the motion to override the veto, said she is frustrated by what she perceives as a lack of leadership from Casavant during the budget process. The council did its due diligence and came up with a budget that was satisfactory, she said.

“We attempted to get leadership and guidance from him through the entire process. Each meeting, we asked for his assistance and weren’t given it,” she said. “Ultimately, it’s my belief he has wasted the time of the council, department heads and citizens.”

Bednarowski also questioned the timing of Casavant’s veto, less than a week before Tuesday’s state primary elections. Casavant is seeking another term representing House District 137.

“I felt the last-minute veto was more of a political gain than a benefit to the city,” Bednarowski said, noting that residents she talked to seem to understand the need for a tax increase after several years of flat budgets.

Casavant, however, said the council failed to consider “the ability of people to pay” more in taxes. He said it’s “insulting” to assert that his veto was made for political gain and that he didn’t provide guidance to the council.

“I said numerous times the budget was unacceptable,” he said. “I see this as a difference of opinion between the mayor and the majority of the council. My sense of the citizenry is that they want us to be more conservative.”

Casavant expects to meet with councilors next week to discuss cuts. He said he believes a budget will be adopted by the beginning of the new fiscal year, July 1.

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: grahamgillian