Brunswick faces nearly 7% tax hike with $57.3M budget

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BRUNSWICK — Property owners can expect to see a 6.6 percent tax hike next fiscal year if a proposed $35 million school budget is approved by a voter referendum on June 11.

The spending plan is part of a $57.3 million combined town, school and county budget that was adopted by the Town Council in a 6-3 vote on May 23.

The combined budget for fiscal year 2014 is down by about 1.7 percent from the town manager’s original proposal, and up by nearly 5 percent from this year’s budget.

Polls for the June 11 school budget referendum will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Brunswick Junior High School, 65 Columbia Ave.

In addition to voting on the school budget, voters will also be asked if they want to continue the budget validation referendum process for another three years.

The $35 million school budget represents a nearly 4.7 percent increase from this year. The hike is partially attributed to increased salaries, benefits, and special education and technology costs.

The school budget also includes six new full-time positions and eight new stipend positions.

In addition, the school budget will reinstate a curriculum coordinator and a few stipend positions for coaches and the School Depatment’s response to intervention program.

Some of the positions were at risk of being cut or remaining unfilled, but the town’s expected sale of the Recreation Center at 30 Federal St. to Brunswick Development Corp. gave the School Department an additional $200,000 to work with.

However, a few full-time and stipend positions – including a clinical educator, an English response to intervention teacher, and few coaching positions – would remain unfunded next year.

Some School Board members previously said they wanted to fill these positions.

“We’re tasked with ensuring that each student in Brunswick receives an adequate education, and I don’t think that’s enough,” Vice Chairwoman Michele Joyce said at an April budget workshop. “Let’s change that expectation from adequate to excellent. The state continues to give to give us challenges and one of the latest is publicly funded charter schools. Let’s keep Brunswick students in Brunswick by providing an excellent education for all of our students.”

The only casualty of the proposed school budget is one full-time health teacher at Brunswick High School, which will be eliminated for next year.

“This is the first time we’ve had this few amount of reductions to existing staff in six years,” Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski said.

On the revenue side, the school budget anticipates a loss of more than $195,000 from an estimated 18 students planning to attend Harpswell Coastal Academy, a public charter school scheduled to open this fall. 

The school budget originally anticipated a loss of about $264,000 from Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to shift state teacher retirement costs to local districts, but the School Board later agreed to not factor in that possibility.

“This is a calculated risk, but I still think it’s a reasonable risk, given the situation we’re in,” Perzanoski said at a May 8 budget workshop.

If the school budget is approved in the referendum and LePage’s proposal goes through, the School Department would either have to ask the town for more revenue or eliminate expenses.

The $21 million town budget represents a nearly 5.4 percent increase from this year’s spending. The hike is partially attributed to increased expenditures in health insurance, fuel costs, energy costs, retirement costs and personnel costs.

In addition, the town has appropriated about $70,000 for operating costs of a new police station; $50,000 for design work on the McLellan Building, which will become the new municipal building within the next year; and about $100,000 for renovating the former U.S. Navy field house at Brunswick Landing, which will become the new hub for the Parks and Recreation Department.

Town Manager Gary Brown said the funds used for the field house will be appropriated from a fund balance account and did not have an impact on next year’s budget.

The town budget does not account for LePage’s proposal to suspend municipal revenue sharing for the next two years.

If that proposal goes through, the Town Council will have to decide whether to increase the local property tax commitment or make cuts to programs and services.

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