Ward 2 Councilor and Finance Committee Chairperson Victor Chau calls Monday for regular meetings between Westbrook school and city officials to increase collaboration. Screen shot / Zoom

More state and federal funding than expected will mean no property tax increases for the second year in a row in Westbrook,

The newly revised $28,192,734 municipal budget for fiscal year 2021 that upon expected approval goes into effect July 1 enables the city to add positions and fully funds the school department’s initial requested increase of $1.2 million with no impact on taxpayers.

The budget now includes partial funding for three patrol officers, $600,000 for street repairs and  an additional $25,000 for the senior tax program. It earmarks $950,000 from the first installment of the American Rescue Plan funds, totaling $1.9 million, to cover a new mental health liaison position at the police department, an EMS director, a new family food grant program, a mayor’s assistant position previously cut from past budgets, a police sergeant and sewer projects downtown.

The budget process has been on somewhat of a roller coaster ride this spring and tensions were at times high between the city and school officials the school department’s proposed budget increase.

Over the past month, officials have considered two school budgets with varying increases and tax rates, finally giving preliminary approval last week to the $41.3 million budget that came with a 22-cent increase to the property tax rate.

Walker Memorial Library Director Rosemary Bebris on Monday told the City Council about the need for a tech position. Computers for the public will soon be back in place at hte library, she said, after being off limits during the pandemic. Screen shot / Zoom

On Monday, however, Mayor Mike Foley announced to the council that the city would receive an  $1.6 million more from the state’s supplemental budget than anticipated, in part because the state will pay the mandated 55% of education costs for the first time ever, compared to roughly 50% in previous years, he said.

He also said the city learned, through recently released guidelines, that it could use $1.9 million in federal COVID relief funds for department requests it previously thought could be ineligible.

“I’d like to thank the mayor for bringing this forward, pressuring the state for funds and doing what you can for the city,” Ward 2 Councilor Victor Chau said.

The council gave final approval to the school budget Monday, 4-3 , with Councilors Elliot Storey, Chau and Gary Rairdon opposed. That school budget will go to voters for approval on June 8.

The revised city budget reflecting the additional funding and expenses received unanimous preliminary approval, but needs a second and final council vote because of the changes made.

With the new budget, the tax rate will remain at $17.86 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Under the governor’s supplemental budget introduced last week, Westbrook’s school and municipal funding will increase $1,610,910 for the coming year, Foley said.

“Additionally, based on eligibility criteria provided by the U.S. Treasury Department, the city can use it’s $1.9 million provided through the American Rescue Plan to fund increased public health services, invest in water and sewer infrastructure, cover pandemic related revenue losses and address other negative impacts related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

Of the $1.9 million in federal COVID relief money, $950,000 will be distributed in equal amounts each over two years.

“We want to build up our paving budget line in our municipal budget. It is a critical need. $600,000 won’t get us a lot, but we are beginning to fund it,” Foley said of one of the planned grant expenses.

The city also now plans to fund a part-time tech assistant position at Walker Memorial Library. A tech position was cut from the last budget, and city tech staff members have been helping the library with its needs.

“This potential funding will go a long way towards restoring the services we can add on the weekends and evenings so people can access the library the way they used to,” library Director Rosemary Bebris said.

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