BRUNSWICK — After receiving a preliminary fiscal 2010 budget with a 1.6 percent tax increase, the Town Council on Monday instructed acting Town Manager Gary Brown to carve another $500,000 from the $54.3 million spending plan.
About half of the reduction will come from the Brunswick School Department.
The council’s new mandate would mean no property tax increase. Brunswick’s current mil rate is $22.54 per $1,000 of assessed value. Brown’s preliminary budget would’ve bumped up the mil rate 36 cents.
Earlier this year the majority of councilors said they were willing to accept a budget with up to a 2 percent tax increase. But on Monday, most councilors said the economy and constituent complaints had prompted a change of heart.
“I’ve had a lot of comments from residents who have lost their jobs, myself included,” said Chairwoman Hallie Daughtry, who was among several workers asked to take early retirement packages at L.L. Bean in April.
It remains to be seen how the town and the School Department will avoid layoffs of their own, while still meeting the council’s mandate. The council gave little indication of where the cuts should be made.
Councilor Joanne King said Brown should get “creative,” adding that she didn’t want Brown to bring back controversial cuts like eliminating the town’s allocation for Coffin Pond. That proposal was rolled out during the last two budget cycles in response to the council’s call for reductions. Both times it was removed from the chopping block after residents complained.
Not all councilors supported the no-tax-increase stance. Councilor Gerald Favreau urged the council to be “realistic” and accept the 1.6 percent increase or face a larger increase next year.
Vice Chairman Benet Pols, meanwhile, said he wasn’t inclined to get involved in the “gut-wrenching process” of cutting programs or jobs that could add to the area’s unemployment rate. Pols was also critical of the council’s unwillingness to identify which cuts it would accept.
“If people have ideas about where these reductions should come from, they shouldn’t be shy,” Pols said.
“It strikes me as sort of chicken,” he added.
King later responded to Pols’ comments, saying the council’s directive probably would result in some job losses.
“If we’re not willing to do it, it looks like we don’t understand what’s going on out there,” she added.
It’s unclear how Brown will slash $250,000 from his plan. He said Wednesday that there’s about $50,000 surplus in the town’s contribution to the state retirement program. He said the surplus hadn’t been identified when his preliminary budget was drafted.
Brown said he’d hit the $250,000 though revenues and reductions, but he wouldn’t specify if those reductions would be layoffs.
“I had three people approach me yesterday to ask if their job was safe,” he said. “I’m not sure people realize how frightening that is.”
School Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said the district hoped to reach its $250,000 target through extra revenues in Title 1 and other grants awarded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. If those estimates are unfavorable, Perzanoski said the district would likely contemplate layoffs of some non-certified employees.
Non-certified employees, he said, included education technicians, secretaries, bus drivers and custodians.
Perzanoski warned that slicing the budget this year could assure a steeper increase next year when the district is expecting to feel the impacts of the 2011 closure of Brunswick Naval Air Station.
“It may be zero percent this year,” he said, “But it could a lot higher next year just to maintain the current level of programming and provide the level of education residents here expect.”
He added that the district was fortunate to have submitted a spending plan with a 0.16 percent increase over the current year. Perzanoski said the district achieved that increase by eliminating 25 jobs through attrition and closing Hawthorne School a year early.
“It’s still not enough,” he said.
Perzanoski also noted a common complaint about Brunswick’s budget process: that the Town Council and School Board don’t work together to avoid last-minute cuts that could have future consequences.
“It’s a budget based on a tax rate, not based on education considerations,” he said. “The budget process should really be based on program evaluation. This takes us out of that realm. The process is so chopped up. There’s no time to evaluate the best decreases or changes.”
The Town Council will hold a public hearing on the budget on May 18 at meeting facility at 6 Industry Road. The meeting begins at 7 p.m.
This story was corrected to clarify how Council Chairwoman Hallie Daughtry employment at L.L. Bean ended.