Westbrook City Councilor Gary Rairdon, right, voted against the budget Monday, saying the school portion’s increase was unsustainable. Councilor Victor Chau, left, voted in favor of the budget but reminded voters that if they do not approve of it, they can vote against it at the June 14 election. Contributed screen shot / Westbrook Community TV

Despite criticism from two councilors about the size of the school budget increase, the Westbrook City Council gave preliminary approval Monday to the proposed city and school budgets.

The combined roughly $74 million budget represents a growth of 1.5% and increases the property tax rate by 27 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. That would mean a tax bill increase of $62.48 for the owner of an average-priced home of $231,400, according to Mayor Mike Foley.

The council approved the combined budget 5-2, with Chairperson Anna Turcotte and Councilor Gary Rairdon voting against it because of the $43.9 million school budget, up $1.8 million over this year’s.

The 9% increase in the municipal budget to $30.9 million is offset by a 13%, or $2 million, growth in revenues over the past year. The new revenue covers the city increase and also helps offset the 4.3% increase in the proposed school budget

“This (school) budget continues to grow at a rate that in my opinion is not sustainable,” said Rairdon, who had expressed similar concerns last year. “I was just at work and someone was worried how they’d fill an oil tank.”

While some new positions included in the school budget, such as English Language Learner teachers, are warranted, he said, other increases, such as boosting librarian pay to the level of teachers’ compensation, are not. He couldn’t “in good conscience support” it, he said. 


“I agree with Councilor Rairdon,” Turcotte said. “I appointed him to chair the Finance Committee. He had reservations last year so I thought it would be a perfect position for him to delve into questions the council had. I trust his judgment reporting back to us, and myself, I have similar reservations.”

Councilors Claude Rwaganje and David Morse spoke in support of the school budget, saying they trust the judgment of the Westbrook School Committee and arguing they have justified every new position.

“They went into detail, and it was good to see administration talk about what is needed and the (school) committee seeing where it is necessary,” Morse said. “This budget got all seven members to vote for it which does not happen every year.”

Councilor Michael Shaughnessy said the local school budget is on par with others in Southern Maine, with taxes at the same level if not lower than many surrounding communities.

I look at the numbers statewide, I don’t see things out of whack,” Shaughnessy said. “When you look at instruction, administration, per pupil cost, it is very similar.”

The mayor also advocated for the school budget, saying he was “disappointed to hear some opposition.


“The economic growth in Westbrook alone has helped to support growth in spending in both city and school while minimizing increases on the tax rate,” Foley said.

The proposed $30.9 million municipal budget is up about $2.7 million over this year’s budget. 

The budget includes $260,000 for potential contract wage increases for all public safety employees and $160,000 for two new police officers. One of the officer positions will be covered by federal pandemic funding.

It also includes $190,000 to public services for paving, $25,000 for downtown items like Christmas lights, $30,000 for vehicle repair and $30,000 for contracted curbside recycling pickup. The budget also holds small wage increases for employees across numerous departments.

The council will vote on final approval for both budgets May 16. Residents will vote June 14 on the school budget.

Councilor Victor Chau said he wanted to remind residents that the June validation vote gives them a chance to have their say on the school budget.

“You still have a chance to speak up,” he said.

Comments are not available on this story.