Westbrook city councilors have approved a $40.3 million school budget to send to voters for final approval on June 11.

Voters in Wards 2 and 3 will have a new place to cast their ballots for next month’s school validation vote. The Maine National Guard Armory will not be available, so polling will take place at the Westbrook Community Center.

The school spending plan is part of an overall $69.8 million city budget for fiscal year 2020, which begins on July 1. Taxpayers will be asked to foot $38.7 million for city, school and county operations, a $1.2 million, or 3.3 percent, increase over the current year.

The tax rate would increase by 50 cents to $20.45 per $1,000 in valuation. The owner of a $200,000 home would pay $4,090 in taxes, an increase of $100 from this year, including $96 more to support the schools, $4 more to support county operations and virtually no tax increase for municipal operations.

Keeping the tax rate increase to 50 cents was the council’s goal, Councilor Mike Foley said. Since 2017, the tax rate has increased by $3.14, or 18 percent, which is an unsustainable trajectory, he said.

To get there, he and Council President Gary Rairdon had discussed cutting the school budget by $500,000. Instead, the council voted 3 to 2 to increase the town’s anticipated valuation by $15 million and ask the school department to reduce school spending by $150,000.

The $150,000 in school budget reductions include reducing the cost of the annual audit by $2,000; eliminating the school department’s share of the cost of running Channel 2 ($43,750); reducing the reserve for capital improvements by $30,000 and equipment by $13,400; delaying a $1,600 roof inspection at the Central Office; reducing the copier maintenance account by $1,000 and the liability insurance rate by $35,000 and not purchasing a new school bus, a $23,200 saving.

On May 10, when the School Committee approved the reductions, Director of Operations Dean Flanagin assured members that the district can delay some capital improvements and the purchase of a new bus without having a bus that is not roadworthy operating.

Alex Stone, a former School Committee member who lives on Clifford Street and operates Blaze’s Burgers on Main Street, warned against reducing the capital improvement/equipment budget. He said doing so means buildings and equipment will continue to age and he reminded the council that Prides Corner School had to be closed several years ago because it was in such disrepair.

Superintendent Peter Lancia, a Westbrook school employee for close to 30 years, told the council what was before them was “just about as lean a budget as I have seen.”

Michael Kelley can be reached at 780-9106 or at:

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Twitter @mkelleynews


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