Brunswick council holds tax hike under 3%, trims school increase

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BRUNSWICK — The Town Council stuck to its tax increase goal Monday night, adopting a total budget with a 2.99 percent hike.

Councilors adopted a $38.1 million school budget, which is $520,000 less than the $38.6 million spending plan recommended May 9 by the School Board

With the 2.99 increase, the tax rate will be $18.92 per $1,000 of assessed property value, or an additional 55 cents. 

Voters will have the chance to ratify the adopted school budget – which is nearly $254,000, or about two-thirds of 1 percent, more than current spending – at a June 12 referendum. 

Councilor James Mason was opposed to the reduced school budget. He voted against all articles related to it, except one authorizing the School Department to apply for grants and other sources of revenue.

Councilor Christopher Watkinson opposed all but two of the school-related articles. He voted in favor of creating a Capital Reserve Fund for Region 10 Technical High School and another to approve the budget for Merrymeeting Adult Education.

Both Mason and Watkinson advocated for a higher tax-rate impact in previous budget discussions, with Watkinson pushing for a 3.9 percent increase at the council’s May 7 meeting, and Mason suggesting a 3.5 percent hike the same evening.

After the meeting Monday, Watkinson elaborated on his reason for voting against the lower school budget, noting cuts to special education funding, teaching positions, and funding for “basic programming” in the classroom. 

“I can’t in good conscience choose to approve an amount that underfunds essential programming in the schools,” he said.

Watkinson added he thinks Brunswick needs to be “doubling down on the services that (it’s) able to fund,” and not be “driven by the bottom line.”

Mason echoed that sentiment, and said he would have liked to have seen the tax impact be at least 3.5 percent.

“I think we are underfunding our schools,” he said. “Each one of those warrants is designed based on the overall budget, and because I think we’re underfunding our schools, I voted against all of them because they’re all part of that same underfunding.”

He went on to say that he would like to see “less divide” on the issue of budgets between the School Department and the Town Council, better funding for schools on the state and federal level, and a “better funding system” that doesn’t rely on property taxes.

Mason said he “would love” to see the town develop a circuit breaker program, although he acknowledged such an initiative would only alleviate “a very small portion” of the tax obligation and redistribute taxes from some needy Brunswick payers to others.

“I think we can develop one that falls along the state circuit breaker program, and if you qualify for the state one then you qualify for the town,” he said. “I think it can be a relatively easily implemented program, but it’s not gonna cure much.”

Also Monday, councilors voted 6-3 to adopt a supplemental budget resolution. Watkinson and Councilors Jane Millett and Stephen Walker were opposed.

The supplemental budget resolution allows more than $1 million from the town’s unassigned general fund balance to be allocated toward different projects, including three road reconstruction and paving projects.

Of the total, $180,000 will be spent on reconstructing Moody Road and Merrymeeting Lane, and $165,000 will be allocated for repairs to over 3,000 feet of Kimberley Circle.

A portion of the funds – $300,000 – will also be used to replace the 24-year-old air conditioning unit at Brunswick High School’s Crooker Theater.

Millett was the only one of the councilors in opposition who commented on her decision.

“I’m going to be voting against this because I don’t think we should be building new roads when we are not taking care of the roads that we have,” she said. 

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.

The Brunswick Town Council on May 14 adopted a town budget with a 2.99 tax increase, which includes a $38.1 million school budget. The school spending plan is $520,000 less than the one recommended by the School Board.