BRUNSWICK — Town councilors narrowly approved a $67.8 million school and municipal budget Monday night, which will raise taxes an estimated 4.97%.

The roughly $26 million town-wide budget accounts for a 1.92% tax increase and the $40.1 million school budget, reduced by about $2 million from the original draft, carries a 3% increase. The budgets will raise the tax rate from $18.92 per $1,000 of taxable value to $19.86. For a home valued at $200,000, that means the tax bill would increase from $3,784 to $3,972.   

Councilors Kathy Wilson, Jane Millett, David Watson and John Perreault voted against the budget, which Wilson said would cause “sticker shock,” especially for some of the town’s older residents.

“We were elected to be representatives of the whole town,” she said, not just school-aged children and their parents. They need to think of their grandparents too, she said, adding that she would vote for the budget if it were 0.5% less, but not as it stands.

The town’s budget increase is driven largely by public safety staffing requests, including the addition of four firefighters, an inspector and one police officer.

The fire department has 32 career firefighters and has been operating with the same staffing level for about 20 years, while the calls for service have only been increasing Fire Chief Ken Brillant told the council at an earlier budget meeting.

The new property tax assistance program that the town approved in December costs another $70,000, but will help provide some tax relief for seniors over 70 who have lived in Brunswick for at least 10 years.

Recycling costs increased by well over $100,000 this year as Eldridge said the recycling market has collapsed. The cost to recycle is now $120 per ton vs. the $80 per ton to take waste to the landfill.

The school budget, which accounts for 60% of the overall budget, is being driven partly by enrollment numbers, which are expected to increase next year when Coffin School rolls out a pre-kindergarten pilot program for 30 students. The district also plans to hire a new assistant principal for Coffin to help with the transition to the Kate Furbish School in 2020. Increased supports for special education students, instructional resources that have been put off for years, and services for the approximately 95 homeless students in the district, including transportation needs, were also identified as top priorities for next year.

The school budget will go to voters for a validation referendum June 11.

The town council also approved the capital improvement program through 2024, which does not approve any funding, but is a plan for spending and projects going forward, Town Manager John Eldridge said.

Some of the suggested projects include the Central Fire Station, the Brunswick High School track, Veterans Plaza and others. Money from the general fund balance was also suggested to go toward street resurfacing and rehabilitation.

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