Westbrook City Councilors, from left, are Victor Chau, council President and Acting Mayor David Morse, Vice President Anna Turcotte, Gary Rairdon, and Jennifer Munro. Robert Lowell / American Journal

Westbrook’s reduced school budget referendum is shaping up as hotly contested after voters rejected a $51.7 million spending plan on June 11.

The City Council Monday, in a first reading that was approved 5-1 with Gary Rairdon opposed and Claude Rwaganje absent, voted to send voters on July 16 a $51.01 million budget proposal that includes adult education for the coming fiscal year that begins July 1. “At the end of the day, it’s still a very large number,” Rairdon said in Monday’s meeting.

A second City Council reading on the latest school budget is set for 6 p.m. Thursday, June 27, in Room 114 at the high school.

Rairdon said some residents have lived in the city all their lives and have to apply for abatements because they can’t pay their taxes. “We’re here for everyone,” Rairdon said about the council’s role.

City Council Vice President Anna Turcotte objected to the implication that the length of a resident’s stay gives more authority as to how the budget is spent. “I take issue with that,” Turcotte said.

Earlier in the meeting, City Councilor Victor Chau and School Committee Chair Suzanne Salisbury exchanged words. Chau said he was upset by Salisbury’s comments at the June 12 School Committee meeting. He referenced her statements of “people still aren’t understanding what they are voting on. … It felt like (the vote) didn’t come from a place of knowledge; it didn’t come from a place of good information.”


“I’m so tired of, if votes don’t go your way, you insult people,” Chau said. “The voters have spoken.”

Salisbury said Chau cited her words as inflammatory. “I feel like you’re an expert on that topic,” Salisbury fired back.

Salisbury said her remarks June 12 were in response to comments she heard from customers in her coffee shop. She said they saw a headline and an increase and they voted without realizing the impact. She said her comments were not made “out of left field.”

Under the city’s latest figures for the $51.01 million replacement budget, school spending would rise from $47.2 million for the present year, marking an increase of $3.8 million or 8.09%.

The portion of the city’s tax rate to support schools would be $10.44 per $1,000 of a home’s assessed valuation, up $1.20 from $9.24 for the present year or 13%.

The city’s overall tax rate including schools would increase from $16.68 per $1,000 of valuation to $18.23, representing a 9.3% hike.


The school’s Finance Committee on June 18 reduced the $51.7 budget that voters rejected by $718,629.06, according to School Finance Director Brian Mazjanis.

But doing his calculations following the Finance Committee meeting and before the School Committee convened the same evening, Mazjanis said, in an email to the American Journal Tuesday, he discovered it was $3,504.78 less “than what was expected from the list of potential reductions.”

Mazjanis said he notified the School Committee from the public podium of this “minor adjustment” before they voted, and the school department corrected the budget cut as $722,133.84.

The earlier budget failed June 11 at the polls, 844-791. “I stand by the original budget; the cuts that were made were very difficult,” Salisbury said, hoping the replacement will pass.

Resident Dan Glover said he voted “no” because he thought the school budget was not enough money, but said he would be “happy to” change his vote.

City Clerk Angela Holmes said the turnout of voters June 11 was 1,641, representing a 10.8% turnout of 15,243 registered voters.

“We had a community that didn’t turn out – that’s on every city councilor, that’s on every school board member, that’s on every parent, coach, mom and dad,” resident Ben Waxman said, urging the City Council to pass this budget and he predicted a bigger turnout at the polls next month.

Resident Marc Fournier stressed the importance of making more information about the budget available to the public and said, for most, finding the information online is not easy. “I voted ‘no,’ it doesn’t make me a bad person,” Fournier said.

City Council President David Morse, who is also acting mayor, said the schools didn’t like the results but respected them. “They saw the writing on the wall,” Morse said.

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