Brunswick officials say it’s still too early to speculate on where the proposed 2022 budget will land or what the potential impact on taxpayers will be, but the biggest concern is an $870,000 decrease in the state subsidy for education.

School Superintendent Phillip Potenziano said this week that he learned in mid-February that the state Department of Education decided to cut funding to the district which, he said, did not get the district’s budget process off to a good start. The district this year received a state subsidy of $11.53 million.

“Truth be told, we’re in a hole before we even start this budget,” he said. “I was surprised to see that significant of a reduction.”

Despite the setback, Potenziano said he’s not yet sure just what impact, if any, the $870,000 loss will have on the 2022 budget. One factor, he said, is President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. Under the plan, he said, Maine is expected to receive $411 million for preK-12 schools. While there is no way of knowing how much will go to Brunswick, Potenziano said it’s possible some of that federal funding will take the sting out of the state funding losses.

“It’s too soon to tell,” he said.

School Board member Mandy Merrill, who is also a member of the board’s finance committee, said this week that the district is already under pressure to restore deep cuts that were in this year’s budget in the wake of the pandemic last year.

“We cut a lot to come out pretty much flat,” she said.

Chief among them, Merrill said, were cuts to capital improvement funds. In February 2020, the district had outlined a laundry list of renovations needed at Brunswick Junior High School and neighboring Coffin School, but that was before COVID-19 struck a month later.

“All of that pretty much went sideways due to the pandemic,” Merrill said.

On the town side, things appear to be faring better.

Town Councilor Dan Ankeles, who also chairs the council’s finance committee, said officials worked to ensure the combined fiscal year 2021 school and town budget remained flat, but some increases are mandated by employment contracts or debt services, so flatlining the budgets meant cutbacks.

“That is something we’re hoping not to do this time around,” he said.

Ankeles said he, too, is concerned about capital improvement funds getting cut for a second year in a row. The funds, he said, are not earmarked for pet projects, rather they are used to upgrade and replace vehicles and computer equipment throughout town.

“We really don’t want to let those go for another year,” he said.

So far, Ankeles said, he is optimistic there will be less need for dramatic cuts on the town’s side. Excise tax revenue from new car registrations, which is a major source of funding, has done surprisingly well despite economic hardships caused by the pandemic, he said.

“It’s not the drag on the budget we thought it would be,” he said.

Right now, Ankeles said, the council has not gotten to the point where it wants to set an arbitrary tax increase figure, zero or otherwise. He said the combined budget proposal should be available in the first two weeks of April, most likely accompanied by public hearings for further discussion.

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