BRUNSWICK

The town council on Monday voted unanimously to send a resolution to the governor and state representatives to show support for increased state funding for municipalities and education.

The resolution, sponsored by Chairwoman Alison Harris and Councilor Dan Harris, calls on the state to support increased funding to local schools and state revenue sharing to municipalities. It also requests the adoption of state budgets in a more predictable and timely fashion.

In 10 years, $10 million less has come from the state in revenue sharing for Brunswick, also contributing to higher taxes for residents.

The uncertainty surrounding the biennial budget adoption in Augusta and how much money the Brunswick school district will receive created a contentious budget process for councilors and the school board. If the proposed budget is passed as originally proposed, the Brunswick School Department could lose $1 million in state aid.

Julia Henze, the town finance director, said the town office has been told about $600,000 is expected to come back to the district once the state budget is adopted. Of that money, $400,000 will restore cuts made to the school budget, including 10 teaching and staff positions, freshman sports and maintenance, and $200,000 will be used to offset the tax impact. If more than $600,000 comes back, it will go into the school’s undesignated fund balance to help prepare for an estimated $800,000 shortfall in next year’s budget.

The amount of money that may be kicked back to the district will not be known until the state passes Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed budget, which will be after the June 13 referendum vote which considers whether to adopt the proposed $37 million school budget.

There is a community movement, led by former school board chairman Rich Ellis, to reject the budget because it is too low, whereas other residents say the school budget is still too high. Resident Jean Powers said salaries increase every year for school staff, some of the highest paid in the state, and taxpayers can’t afford to pay for it, especially those who live on Social Security.

Harris said Tuesday the purpose of sending the resolution is to influence consideration and deliberation at the state level to free up education funding and to show additional money for education is in the public interest. He said Brunswick area representatives favor more money for schools, but he said he knows of no Republican legislators who are of the same mindset. Harris said it should not be a partisan issue.

The councilor said the United States has a history of priding itself on public education system, and said it is what the founding fathers envisioned — understanding that democracy will not work without an educated electorate. “I don’t like to use this word, but it’s un-American, it’s not right,” he said of the cuts to education spending at the state level.

In 2004, voters approved an initiative that requires the state to cover 55 percent of public education costs. That doesn’t mean each individual district is funded at 55 percent, but statewide 55 percent of education costs are paid for by the state. Thirty-seven percent of the Brunswick School District is paid for by the state, according to Department of Education data from last year.

Currently, the state pays 50 percent of education costs, according to the Department of Education, but the Maine Educators Association lists the percentage as 46.7 percent. The discrepancy lies in whether staff retirement funding is included in the figures, explained school board member Sarah Singer.

Also part of the mix is fighting over whether the citizens’ initiative to apply a 3 percent surcharge on taxable income to go toward school costs will become law or be nixed. According to the Maine legislative Democrats’ 2017 budget priorities, the surcharge on Maine’s top 2 percent of earners will garner the state $370 million, stipulated to be used for education.

Harris said it’s not fair for the state to shift tax burden onto towns, especially as property taxes are regressive, and does not account for ability to pay. Income tax, he said, is a progressive tax, which focuses more on what a person is able to contribute.

Harris said he doesn’t expect a response from governor’s office about the resolution.

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