Westbrook Mayor Mike Foley said the $27.4 million municipal budget he presented to the City Council Monday would result in a property tax decrease, while the $41 million school budget as proposed will cause residents’ tax bills to go up.

Foley wants the school department to cut $420,000 from its budget to bring the tax rate increase down.

Without cuts to the school budget, the tax rate would rise from $17.86 to $18.58 per $1,000 of assessed value. The owner of a $250,00 home in the city would pay $180, or 4%, more in taxes than they did this year.

Under Foley’s plan for a $73.4 million combined city and school budget, the tax rate would be $18.07 per $1,000 of assessed property value, an increase of 21 cents, or 1.2%, over the current year’s rate. The owner of a median-priced $250,000 home would pay an additional $52.50 next year.

A $73.4 million combined budget would be up 1.4% or $1.03 million over the current year’s budget.

Community members and some School Committee members at a meeting Monday said the school budget as initially proposed is necessary and the council should approve it.

Sue Salisbury, chairperson of the school board’s finance committee, School Committee speaks out against proposed cuts to the school budget Monday. Screenshot / Zoom

“We can’t keep telling people how well we are doing in the city but turn around and say we can’t properly fund our schools,” Ward 4 School Committee member Andrea Mancuso said.

If the school department cuts its budget by $420,000, the city will contribute money from its available funds to offset part of the increase that remains to get the tax rate increase down to 1.2%.

 “We feel we can justify this modest growth in this year’s tax rate due to last year’s $5,000 increase in the Homestead Tax Exemption, which resulted in an $89.30 tax bill reduction for eligible homeowners,” Foley said. “Even with a 21-cent increase in the (proposed) rate, homeowner’s total annual tax bill will be lower than the previous year’s property tax bill.”

While Foley said his proposed increase is a “balanced compromise,” between the school department and the city, he remains concerned about the schools’ overall spending.

“]Read more about proposed school increases[/mtm-related-link]

Mayor Mike Foley presents his proposed $27.4 million municipal budget to the City Council Monday. Screenshot / Zoom

“We continue to have an unsustainable business model for the cost of local government services,” Foley said. “In addition to reexamining how we spend the public’s tax dollars for education and municipal services, we also must address how we raise funds to pay for these essential services.”

Mancuso and School Committee Finance Chairperson Sue Salisbury, along with community members, said they don’t want the school budget to be decreased.

“The increase that the school department is proposing is partially driven by the fact that teachers went without a raise last year and we felt that it was important to make them whole in this new budget,” Salisbury told the American Journal.

“While I can appreciate that the mayor does not want to increase taxes, it is hard to sit back and listen to TIF money in excess of $300,000 being used to fund economic development, countless new developments being planned, which will inevitably bring in new families, and hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent on new outdoor spaces when we are going to have to cut programs and maybe lay off some people in order to bring our budget down by $420,000,” Salisbury said.

American Roots owner Ben Waxman said at the meeting that he has had employees leave Westbrook for other school districts.

“After the year we’ve had, we have to support the school. They aren’t asking for free money, they are asking because they need the resources,” Waxman said.

Congin PTO President Katie Rice said because of the pandemic, the time is not right to make cuts.

“Our kids will be back, and we won’t know if they need extra assistance because they weren’t fortunate enough to have a parent help them with school work,” Rice said. “Those are needs that need to be met. If we are cutting positions we know we need now, we will be further in the hole going forward.”

The mayor’s proposed $27,442,734 municipal budget shows a $66,547 decrease in total spending and a 35 cent reduction in the municipal portion of the property tax rate. Revenue has been down $411,477, or 1.13%, this year, Foley said.

The city made cuts in the proposed budget on top of the reductions it make in this year’s, he said.

“Many additional cost savings measures have been implemented, including the elimination of nine positions (last year), hiring and spending freezes and the elimination of two more positions during this fiscal year,” Foley said.

The City Council will hold a preliminary vote on the municipal and school budgets May 10.

The school committee is scheduled May 17.

A resident referendum on the school portion of the budget will be held June 8.

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