The Westbrook City Council has passed a $68.5 million budget for next year, despite concerns from some members about its burden on taxpayers.

The final proposal represents a 6 percent spending increase over the current year. The property tax rate will go up $1.05 per $1,000 of assessed value, or 5.6 percent, from $18.88 to $19.93. The city hasn’t experienced that kind of jump in the tax rate since fiscal year 2010. On a home assessed at $190,000, that increase amounts to roughly $200 annually.

The vote Monday was split, 4-2. Councilors Gary Rairdon and John O’Hara voted no, and Council President Brendan Rielly recused himself because his law firm contracts with the city.

Rairdon said he could not vote for the budget “in good conscience.”

“About five years ago, I ran for City Council, and one of the platforms was that I wanted to make some smart decisions and have our taxes pay for things that we need,” Rairdon said. “We have needs and we have wants. These two budgets here, there are some needs and a lot of wants.”

The bulk of the increase comes from the school budget, which still requires validation from voters on June 12.

The Westbrook School Department has proposed a spending plan of $38.6 million, a 6.5 percent increase over the current year. That number accounts for 88 cents of the tax rate spike. Those numbers are up in part because of new bond payments on school renovation projects, as well as contractual raises and employee benefits.

The municipal portion of the budget represents about 14 cents of the tax rate increase. The $28.3 million is up nearly 6 percent over the current year, but the city’s revenues are also projected to spike by more than 11 percent. The city will cover its new spending with other sources, like a grant that will pay in part for eight new firefighters.

The councilors also decided to fund a recovery liaison position in the Westbrook Police Department and increase the amount of money given to several local social service organizations.

The budget plan for next year also reorganizes the human resources department, including the director’s job. Meanwhile, the city’s director of human resources was on paid administrative leave for months earlier this year, and it is unclear if she will return to the job.

The county tax demand for Westbrook next year will be $1.4 million. That number is 3.7 percent higher than the current year.

Councilor Lynda Adams said she has gotten calls from elderly residents who are worried about the increase. City staff is studying programs to provide property tax relief for senior citizens.

“One of the reasons it didn’t get into this year’s budget is because we didn’t have that process done,” City Administrator Jerre Bryant said. “We didn’t know what it would cost to fund such a program. … We’re working on that.”


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