The fate of $60 million in proposed spending may hinge on whether members of a divided Brunswick Town Council feel it’s appropriate to spend $10,000 in taxpayer dollars on a program that benefits the hungry.

During a Tuesday workshop, the council debated whether to abandon a policy against funding social service agencies in place since 2007 in order to provide funding to the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program.

Several councilors said their objections were based on the fact that the finance committee has not discussed changing that policy.

“We haven’t really vetted them,” said Councilor Dan Harris. “I have no idea what their salaries are for their staff. … We have an obligation to know where that money’s going.”

According to its website, MCHPP provides food assistance to more than 1,200 families every year through seven programs including a soup kitchen, food bank and food pantry.

Opponents to funding MCHPP argued that residents haven’t had a chance to provide their input as to whether MCHPP should be funded with their tax dollars.

However, MCHPP Director Ethan Minton approached the council in early April with a request for $43,000 in taxpayer funds.

It was then that Minton said about 2,200 Brunswick residents use the food pantry, which accounts for 65 percent of its usage, or about 10 percent of the town’s population.

Supporters such as Councilor John Richardson specifically cited the Back Pack Program as a reason to fund MCHPP, albeit at $33,000 less than the amount Minton first proposed.

Mid Coast Hunger has administered the Back Pack Program since 2013, providing food for 250 elementary school students’ families over weekends when school lunches are unavailable. There are 73 Harriett Beecher Stowe and Coffin elementary school students’ families that benefit from the program, which costs $16,425 annually.

“It is what brings these kids to school and ready to learn,” said Richardson.

Councilor Kathy Wilson suggested money ought to be taken from the school budget in order to fund MCHPP, while adding that students, school staff and supporters haven’t done enough to raise money to offset the cost of Brunswick High School’s graduation.

“We are responsible for making sure our people don’t starve,” said Wilson. “I think the town should help.”

Town Councilor Jane Millett raised her objections to funding MCHPP by waving what appeared to be a personal check, and stating she was willing to donate her stipend — as opposed to tax dollars — to help fund the program, and suggested other councilors could do the same.

“I have no qualm about how they spend their money,” Millett said. “My concern has to do with donating tax dollars to that entity, without having that discussion over other social service agencies, et cetera.”

“I’m not comfortable in just throwing money at them,” said Councilor David Watson. “I’ve heard their meals are fine but everything else is candy. I just want to know whether this is going to go to a good cause.”

Later in the meeting, however, Watson spoke in favor of MCHPP’s efforts to provide meals to Brunswick students at home, noting that, “when a child is hungry it creates problems in school.”

As he spoke, Millett again waved her check, prompting Watson to add: “You can hold a check up, but it takes a community. … We’ve got to work together.”

Funding for other nonprofits, including People Plus, Curtis Memorial Library and People Plus, are already included in the town’s spending proposal for the next fiscal year.

“It almost seems absurd we’re going to argue over 10,000 bucks,” said Harris, “but I’m going to argue anyway.”

With the council set to approve a budget this week, Chairwoman Sarah Brayman said it was important to find a compromise.

Brunswick residents are facing a 3.5 percent increase in their tax bill. Under the proposed spending plan, Brunswick’s tax rate of $27.40 per $1,000 of assessed value would increase to $28.36. The town’s tax rate is based on 70 percent of valuation.

Of nearly $59.7 million in municipal, school and county spending proposed, $38.8 million would be paid through local taxes.

The school portion of the overall spending plan is $36.5 million; $23.3 million would be paid for with taxpayer dollars.

The school board has already voted to eliminate a reading strategist position at Coffin School and a K-5 technology integrator.

On Tuesday, the council appeared to be in agreement to reduce the school district’s spending request by $60,000.

The council also appears to poised to eliminate $200,000 in proposed spending from the municipal portion of the budget. That means the elimination of a police department position, a public works position, and a clerical position.

The council was disinclined to take more than the $825,000 already proposed from the fund balance to offset expenditures.

The council is scheduled to vote on the combined spending plan on Thursday, and a referendum on the school portion of the spending plan only will be held June.

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Food for families

ACCORDING TO ITS website, the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program provides food assistance to more than 1,200 families every year through seven programs including a soup kitchen, food bank and food pantry.

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