The Westbrook City Council will take up a budget proposal Monday that would carry the greatest tax rate increase the city has seen in eight years.

The total spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1 is $64.4 million. That number is $3.1 million higher, or 4.9 percent, than the budget for the current year. If approved, the property tax rate would go from $18.40 per $1,000 of assessed value to $19.34.

That’s an increase of more than 5 percent, or 94 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. On a home assessed at $190,000, the annual tax bill would go up by $179.

Councilors spent two weeks and four meetings negotiating down the initial proposal, which called for an even greater increase to the tax rate. But the final number is still the greatest increase since fiscal year 2010, when the property tax rate jumped $1.27 per $1,000 of assessed value.

“We have to focus on a bottom line here,” said City Administrator Jerre Bryant. “This year, it’s not good or easy. In a situation like this, we have to say no to good ideas.”

If the plan is approved, the school department would need to raise $19.3 million in taxes next year, a 6.6 percent increase over the current year. The municipal portion of the budget would need $36.5 million, a 5.7 percent increase. The county share of tax revenue would be $1.4 million, a 5.9 percent increase.

Most of the spending increases would not add services at Westbrook City Hall. The municipal budget included 2 percent raises for many employees, a change required by contract that will cost an extra $421,000 next year. Health insurance for employees will cost $315,215 more next year.

“Those are both changes to the cost of doing business,” Bryant said. “We’re labor-intensive, and the cost of labor is not cheap. That’s why we said no to eight positions.”

Bryant said he wants to support all the departments in City Hall, but he could not accommodate all requests.

“When we started the budget process, there were requests for 11 new positions, and every one of them is defensible,” Bryant said. “However, we cannot afford them. We funded three and a half.”

Those additions included an employee in the finance department and another in the city clerk’s office.

On Wednesday, the councilors cut $35,000 from Mayor Mike Sanphy’s budget proposal. The money came from the social services budget, which Sanphy had hoped to increase by 32 percent. Instead, most organizations will receive flat funding compared to the current year. The city’s contributions to these groups range from $2,000 to the Trauma Intervention Program at Maine Behavioral Healthcare to $40,000 to the My Place Teen Center in Westbrook.

“While I would like it to be doing more and costing less, this budget is my effort to continue to move our city forward while balancing the challenges facing all communities throughout the state of Maine, primarily how to adequately fund local services and operations while keeping our property tax rate at a manageable level,” Sanphy said during his budget presentation in April.

COUNCILORS REBUKED

Several organizations, including the teen center, had asked for more money from the city next year. At Wednesday’s meeting, amid a debate among councilors about which causes should be most important, My Place Teen Center President and CEO Donna Dwyer rebuked them for not filling its full request. She also noted the council did not fulfill the police chief’s request to bring a part-time position for heroin prevention to full time.

“It was a mistake not to fund the CASH coordinator position at a full level,” Dwyer said. “It’s a mistake to not fund the teen center so we can provide those prevention and early intervention services.”

The Westbrook School Department budget proposal added new positions as well, including middle school teachers, a social worker at the high school and extra hours for an elementary school ELL teacher. Fifth- and sixth-grade students will also get new laptops next year. Peter Lancia, superintendent of the Westbrook School Department, did not return requests for comment Friday.

The tax rate increase doesn’t yet include the impact of a $27 million school renovation project. Voters in November approved a bond for a renovation and 12 new classrooms at Saccarappa Elementary School, as well as 12 new classrooms at Westbrook Middle School. That project will add about 80 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value to the tax rate, though city and school officials hope to spread that impact over multiple years. The first year to feel that impact will be fiscal year 2019.

The City Council will meet at 7 p.m. Monday in Room 114 of Westbrook High School for a first reading and vote.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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