Brunswick town hall. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

BRUNSWICK — Brunswick town officials are sending a “flat” budget to a public hearing next month— one that keeps the municipal tax impact at 0% but cuts funding to organizations like the Curtis Memorial Library, the Brunswick Downtown Association and People Plus in the process. 

Councilors unanimously — but hesitantly — agreed to send the flat budget to a public hearing June 1 with the understanding that the school department will also present a flat budget. In order to do so, school officials will have to cut nearly $1 million. 

“If we came in at 0%, we expect them to come in at 0%,” Council Chairman John Perreault said. 

Despite two flat budgets, residents will still face a 3.4% tax increase with the Kate Furbish Elementary School debt service and the county tax. This will increase the mil rate, currently $19.72 per $1,000 of valuation, to $20.40, meaning the tax bill for a $200,000 home would increase about $136 to $4,080. 

Original municipal budget estimates featured a roughly 2.23% tax increase, but last month, after almost $1.2 million in reductions, town manager John Eldridge presented a budget with a 0.96% increase. 

Eldridge and councilors further whittled the budget down on Thursday, cutting an additional $613,000 in expenditures to get down to 0%. 

“It’s a lot easier to put these on a piece of paper than to implement them in actuality,” Eldridge said. 

Paving and road rehabilitation, previously expected to increase by at least $100,000, will stay the same at about $1.1 million— nearly $800,000 short of the recommended funding level. 

Curtis Memorial Library’s budget, which was expected to increase by $45,000 will instead be reduced by $50,000. People Plus and the Brunswick Downtown Association will both see $10,000 cuts instead of the projected $7,400 and $5,000 increases, respectively. Together these reductions will save about $123,000. 

Councilors felt strongly that staff positions should be protected, though according to finance director Julia Henze, the budget includes the potential for one layoff. What position that may be, how much money it could save and whether it will happen are still up in the air, she said, so the budget does not include a set number. 

The town also eliminated two vacant positions it hoped to fill for an additional $150,000. The police department is down one or two officers this year, and will remain so, saving about $60,000 for each officer.  

A property tax relief program for seniors, started last year, was also reduced by about $35,000, leaving $39,000 left in the fund, something Henze said was particularly hard, as it will likely impact the program long term. 

A previous version of the budget cut costs through a proposal to send recyclables to the landfill for a year, but after councilors pushed back, the $75,000 were added back in. 

These cuts are necessitated, and exacerbated, by over $775,000 worth of revenue estimates that were decreased dramatically after the coronavirus pandemic hit. Counted-on funds from state revenue sharing, excise tax and interest revenue have all been slashed. Officials have also allocated $150,000 from the fund balance to help offset operational expenses. 

The school department, most recently presenting a tax increase of about 2% without the Kate Furbish costs. In order to get a “flat” budget, the school board will have to cut over $930,000.

Current school budget drivers include a $343,000  increase in staffing, supplies, equipment and contracted services for English for Speakers of Other Languages and an increase of over $350,000 for special education services, something Kelly Wentworth, school business manager, said continues to get removed from the budget “year after year.” 

The school board is scheduled to discuss the budget and necessary cuts on Tuesday. 

In a post on social media, councilor Dan Ankeles called the situation a “grim moment for a great town.” 

“The worst part is how long it could take to recover,” he said, but added that if any unexpected state or federal money comes in, the council and school board will likely proposed amending the budget. 

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