The proposed increase for the city tax rate went from just under 3 percent to 4.3 percent, as city councilors voted on a flurry of last-minute changes to the budget Monday.

Most of the increase came as the result of the addition of a $250,000 curb-side recycling program, which had been rejected by city councilors in a previous budget meeting. (see story, Page 1).

Councilors also removed $150,000 in revenue that was being used inappropriately, according to city attorney William Dale. The $150,000 would have come from the sale of wetlands in the back of the Stroudwater Street property where the new middle school is going to be built.

Dale said the revenue could be used to offset the local share of the $900,000 purchase price, but should not be used to reduce the tax rate.

City councilors also voted to cut $50,000 from the school budget. Councilor Ed Symbol led the charge to cut the money, saying that the school could find a place to make the cut.

Superintendent Stan Sawyer was against the cut to the $29.1 million budget. Sawyer said school administrators would review the budget and recommend cuts to the School Committee.

Monday night’s first reading came just four days after the Budget and Finance Committee finished the bulk of its work. At that meeting on June 7, the committee slowly whittled the budget down over the course of the evening.

Some expenditures revisited and left in Mayor Bruce Chuluda’s proposed budget include a new traffic officer and a parking enforcement agent. The committee felt traffic was a significant problem in Westbrook, and a parking enforcement agent could conceivably pay for itself with increased revenues from parking tickets.

An upgrade to the city planner’s pay was also included. The city is looking for a new planner, and in order to stay competitive in the planning field it is increasing the salary from about $49,000 to more than $60,000.

By recommendation of the administration, the expected expenditure for fuel was also increased. At the time the spending plan was put together, the budgeted amount of $2.20 per gallon of gasoline was higher than what the city was paying. Since then, the latest fuel delivery came in it at $2.55 per gallon. The budget was adjusted to reflect those costs, with $31,000 added to the contingency fund to brace for any other unexpected fuel costs.

Also added to the contingency fund on June 7 was just under $40,000 on behalf of the school department in hopes the money would be used by the school to implement a recycling program.

The city is working toward implementing recycling in its municipal offices, and is working with the school department and Westbrook Housing to do the same. Westbrook Housing is expected to phase in recycling at all its sites over the next six months, according to John Gallagher, executive director.

The $40,000 was contentious to some, but, as council president Brendan Rielly said, while he didn’t like the idea, “our alternative is to kick (recycling) off another year.”

“I think it’s ridiculous that we teach our kids to recycle, and we don’t recycle. Not one scrap of paper. Nothing,” he said.

“I don’t like the idea that we put it on the city side,” Councilor John O’Hara agreed. “But does my right pocket have money for the school, and my left pocket money for the city? No, it’s one pocket.”

As the June 7 finance committee meeting wore on, the tax rate declined from $24.74 per $1,000 of valuation at 8:30 p.m., to $24.56 at 9:55 p.m., bringing the budget increase to under 3 percent.

But by 9:30 Monday night, after the council had hacked at it, the tax rate jumped from the $24.56 to $24.90, up 4.3 percent over this year’s rate of $23.87.

The city council will be taking the budget to a second reading on Monday at 7 p.m., in room 114 of the high school. If councilors make no changes, they will vote on final approval. If the budget is amended again, it will go for another reading on Monday, June 25.


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