Brunswick budget cuts remain a moving target

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BRUNSWICK — Some town councilors would be willing to accept budget cuts to reduce next year’s tax hike to just under 7 percent, but the council did not take any solid direction at two recent budget workshops.

With a May 23 deadline less than a week away to adopt a combined town, school and county budget, the Town Council has little time left to discuss and hear public comment on recommended cuts to the town and school budgets.

Because four councilors were unavailable for a scheduled May 16 budget workshop, the meeting was cancelled. The council will continue deliberations and hear public comment on recommended budget cuts at its regular Monday meeting on May 20.

At a May 9 budget workshop, Town Manager Gary Brown recommended about $412,000 in cuts to the town budget after the council previously requested town staff to determine ways to reduce the proposed tax hike from more than 10 percent to somewhere between 5 percent and 7 percent.

The original budget proposal was for a combined town, school and county budget for fiscal 2014 of $58.3 million.

The School Board has already agreed to cut about $772,000 from its proposed $35.7 million school budget. With Brown’s recommended cuts to the town budget, the combined cuts would result in a tax rate increase of just under 7 percent.

Brown’s recommended cuts include a reduction in holiday and vacation pay for the Police Department; reductions for training and elimination of a shed replacement for the Fire Department; the elimination of a cable TV coordinator and public works deputy director; miscellaneous reductions across various departments, and a $250,000 reduction from a one-year delay of road maintenance on Nancy and Patricia drives.

Brown also presented an additional $118,000 in cuts to the town budget, but did not recommend them, saying they would result in a “significant diminishment of some programs and services that make this community what it is.”

Those cuts include a $50,000 reduction for Curtis Memorial Library; a $30,000 reduction for People Plus and the Brunswick Teen Center; reductions to Memorial Day and July 4 holiday expenditures; reductions for nonprofits including Pejepscot Historical Society, Five River Arts Alliance and Maine State Music Theater, and eliminating $20,000 in funding for Coastal Trans, which provides public transportation for Brunswick.

Brown noted that the additional cuts would only result in a 1/3 of 1 percent reduction in the proposed property tax rate.

Councilors Margo Knight, John Richardson and Ben Tucker indicated they would be willing to support Brown’s recommended cuts, but not the additional cuts.

Councilor Benet Pols said while he opposes the additional cuts, he hasn’t made up his mind on Brown’s recommended cuts, citing concerns with how residents of Nancy and Patricia drives might react to deferred road maintenance.

“I remember them coming in some time ago and they were pretty upset and pretty mad about the amount of time that had drifted past,” Pols said. “As a general principle, I’d say, ‘yeah, I’m glad (Brown) hit the target, or within that 5-7 (percent) window,’ but I’d hold my breath on saying (the recommended cuts are) good to go, from a public perspective.”

Councilor John Perreault said he would like to see the tax rate increase down to around 6 percent, so he supported making all or some of the additional cuts that Brown recommended against.

“I’m not going to be happy, but I’m willing to say that Nancy Drive can be put off a year,” Perreault said of the street in his district.

Other councilors said they would like to wait before making a decision on the cuts.

“I’m looking at this as a target, I thought,” Councilor Sarah Brayman said, “and we haven’t heard from the public either, so we don’t know.”

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.