March 18, 2013

Westbrook budget aims to reduce taxes

Proposed spending for non-school services would actually decline next year if all goes to plan.

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WESTBROOK – A proposed $23.1 million municipal budget would bring down Westbrook's tax rate in the next fiscal year, but only if the Legislature rejects Gov. Paul LePage's proposals to shift funds to the state.

The budget calls for a slight decrease in spending of almost $4,000 and a decrease in the tax rate of 23 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

But it doesn't account for LePage's proposals to shift revenue-sharing money from cities and towns to the state.

Nor does it say what effect projected budget increases from the county and the school department could have on the.

Changes proposed by LePage in municipal revenue sharing, excise taxes and General Assistance would mean a $1.5 million reduction in revenue for Westbrook and add 83 cents to the tax rate, according to the city's comptroller, Alicia Gardiner.

Presenting the budget to the City Council on Monday, City Administrator Jerre Bryant said "cuts of this magnitude are not likely to happen" but he expects "some level of reduction" from the state.

Cumberland County has adopted a budget that will raise property taxes in Westbrook by 3 cents per $1,000 valuation, and the Westbrook School Department has proposed a $33.3 million budget that, if adopted, will raise taxes by 72 cents.

The school department's proposed $2.4 million increase takes into account another proposal by LePage -- to shift teacher retirement costs from the state to school districts.

In Westbrook, the added cost in 2013-14 was expected to be $440,000 when Superintendent Marc Gousse made his budget proposal earlier this month. Figures released Monday put the cost at a much more modest $164,000.

In a message to the council before the municipal budget presentation, Mayor Colleen Hilton called the county and school increases "unsustainable and unmanageable for many of our taxpayers."

As proposed, the municipal and school budgets, along with the adopted county budget, would increase the property tax bill by $98.90 for the average home, assessed at $190,000, Hilton said.

The tax rate would be $17.92 per $1,000 valuation.

Depending on what happens at the state level, Hilton said, the city's "thoughtfully crafted budget plan could change dramatically."

The school budget is subject to approval by the City Council.

Councilor Mike Foley said "it's disappointing to see growth in some of the other budgets that are attached to this (municipal) budget."

On the other hand, he said, it's "very rare" to see a municipal budget that proposes to lower the tax rate.

Although total spending proposed in the municipal budget is largely unchanged from the current year, which ends June 30, several shifts in expenditures are proposed.

Increases include $97,000 for the salaries of two police officers, an amount which had been covered by a grant.

Decreases include $69,000 from outsourcing custodial services.

Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

lbridgers@pressherald.com

 

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