SACO — The city has approved a municipal budget that will increase the mil rate by 4 cents.

The $23.9 million budget was approved 4-3, with Councilors Kevin Roche, Arthur Tardif and Nathan Johnston opposed.

The budget was discussed for more than two and a half hours before the vote Monday night, with more than 15 proposed amendments discussed.

Among proposals that failed were an addition of $857 for a mayor’s cellphone and $100,000 for LED streetlights. Also rejected was a proposal to increase the Dyer Library/Saco Museum budget by $25,000 from last year’s budget. The library and museum budget will instead increase by $3,000.

The council also voted to cut $6,250 for a citizen survey; reduce the planning and economic development budget by $25,000; and eliminate funding for a city marketing plan.

The council tabled a decision on whether to hire a part-time attorney instead of contracting out legal services.

The most vocal councilor Monday night was Roche, who proposed eliminating the economic development director position ”“ which has a salary of about $97,000 plus benefits ”“ and replacing it with a grant writer with a salary of $50,000 and benefits. His motion failed.

Long-time Councilors Leslie Smith and Eric Cote voiced opposition. Smith said Economic Development Director Peter Morelli has brought in more grant money than the cost of his position. He said Morelli has a lot of knowledge and it would be short-sighted to eliminate his position.

Cote said Morelli’s work had led to the success of many projects, including the train station and the redevelopment of the former central fire station.

Roche countered back with the amount of empty space at Mill Brook Industrial Park and the empty Mill No. 4 building on Saco Island.

Cote said Roche had only been on the council for six months and did not have a full understanding of what had been done in the community in years prior.

Roche said he was one of four new members on the council. He said the new members weren’t “out to get somebody,” but instead wanted to make changes needed by the city.

“We expect results, pure and simple,” he said.

Roche also questioned spending by the recreation departments and public works departments.

A proposal on the table to reduce lifeguard positions by the recreation department was not approved, and had been suggested as a result of council discussion to propose reduction of spending in the recreation department. Roche said cutting lifeguard positions had not been discussed by city councilors, and said the department was too top heavy and needed to reduce spending.

“My baloney tolerance is very low,” said Roche.

The budget approved Monday night is just the municipal side of the budget, and does not include the school budget. Residents will vote on a school budget at the polls on Tuesday that will not change the city’s tax rate.

— Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 325 or [email protected]

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