Westbrook school officials are aiming for a flat budget for the next school year to keep taxes stable in light of economic hardships caused by the pandemic.

Superintendent Peter Lancia presents a chart showing school budget increases over the years to the School Committee last week. The blue bars are payroll expenses, while the red line is non-payroll increases. Screenshot / Zoom

If the School Committee’s Finance Committee is successful in coming up with a zero-increase budget, neither that budget nor the municipal budget should result in higher bills for taxpayers. The tax rate would remain at $17.86 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The owner of a $250,000 home will continue to pay $4,465 in taxes.

“We have been directed by the city to come in at a zero increase,” Finance Committee Chairperson Sue Salisbury said. “So what we will do through our budget review is, as a committee, see if there are other cuts that can be made that won’t negatively impact students.”

The Finance Committee last week reviewed Superintendent Peter Lancia’s draft budget of $42,090,237, which represents just under a 4% increase over this school year’s budget. Over the next month, the committee says it will pare the budget back to $40.8 million.

This year’s school budget was up 0.99%, but city funding was used to alleviate any tax increase it would have caused.

Lancia said the majority of the increase in his proposal comes from payroll. Teachers last year opted out of a scheduled pay raise to reduce the school budget.

“This is typical to see payroll expand over time. Our nonpayroll expenses have been flat or seen a decrease in the last few years,” Lancia said at a March 3 School Committee meeting.

His proposal also includes hiring a new elementary school teacher, increasing special education staffing and funding to “maintain the library.” Details of those plans will be discussed at future meetings.

The Finance Committee will present its budget proposal to the School Committee, which plans to present a finalized budget to the City Council April 14.

The City Council also is working through fiscal year 2022’s municipal budget with the goal of having no tax increase for the second year in a row.

“We are hoping to possibly get local government assistance from Congress as they discuss future relief measures, which will also help us to weather the challenges,” Mayor Mike Foley previously said.

The city had estimated it would receive about $845,000 less in revenue than previous years for fiscal year 2021, “though some of those revenue lines have held stronger than regionally forecasted, and based on the proposed state budget, revenues are planned to be flat from this past year.”

This fiscal year’s $29.8 million city budget authorized the use of city reserve funds to offset expected revenue losses from the coronavirus pandemic and cut nine positions across city departments. It is $184,000, or 0.61%, less than the municipal budget two years back.

Positions cut for a total of $448,876 in savings were the city communications manager, an emerging technology librarian, a police secretary, a parking and animal control officer, an administrative assistant, a project funds specialist and two learning assistants and an art instructor for summer camps and extra school programs.

The city also has an ongoing hiring freeze.

“We will continue to keep positions vacant to help balance the budget and consider elimination for the upcoming budget,” Foley said.

Comments are not available on this story.