Brunswick council begins debate over proposed job, program cuts
BRUNSWICK — The Town Council's first dive into the fiscal 2011 budget revealed potential sticking points on Monday, as some councilors advocated to restore targeted jobs and service reductions, while others called for deeper cuts.
Although the potential for a reduced workforce and services has been discussed for the last several weeks, Monday's debate took on a more impassioned tone.
Councilors hoping to avert layoffs questioned the long-term repercussions and costs of the reductions. Others, meanwhile, called for additional belt-tightening at a time when property taxpayers can ill afford an increase.
"Everybody is sensitive to people losing their jobs," Chairwoman Joanne King said. "But I knocked on a lot of doors (while campaigning last fall), and the one thing I heard more often than not is 'don't raise my taxes.'"
King's comments were in response to Town Manager Gary Brown's proposed budget of $28.8 million, a spending plan that includes the elimination of seven municipal positions in addition to reductions to various programs like street paving, a $100,000 cut in the subsidy to Curtis Memorial Library and the closing of Coffin Pond.
Despite those cuts, Brown's budget requires a 2 percent property tax increase. If ratified by the council, the town's property tax rate would increase from $22.54 per $1,000 of assessed value to $22.99.
A budget retaining current staffing and service funding levels would result in a 6.5 percent increase, or a $24 mil rate.
While there appears to be little appetite for a status-quo budget, some councilors seem prepared to go beyond Brown's 2 percent spending plan to retain some jobs, specifically the natural resources planner and the deputy director of public works.
The council has received several correspondences and e-mails lobbying for the restoration of those positions, and against the proposed cut in the library subsidy.
On Monday, Councilor Suzan Wilson, who in recent weeks has been the most persistent advocate for reduced municipal spending, described some of the lobbying as "orchestrated" and "unseemly," and unfair to the employees who don't have influential friends trying to save their jobs.
"It doesn't take an individual or job titles to do any of these things," Wilson said. "A lot of towns don't have those positions and they haven't experienced natural disasters."
Wilson also praised Brown for finding savings in his proposed budget instead of allowing department heads to grow their "little fiefdoms."
"I don't want us to confuse our missions and goals with the means required to achieve them," she said.
Councilor Benet Pols refuted Wilson's comments about lobbying efforts to save targeted positions.
"I don't think it's unseemly for citizens or committee members to support an employee," Pols said, adding it is the council's job to consider those arguments.
"I don't think it's this legislative body's duty to rollover and simply do what the big man (Brown) says," Pols added.
Vice Chairwoman Debbie Atwood also seemed to lean against the proposed layoffs.
But so far, the majority seems poised to support them, and perhaps take the reductions even further.
"The tighter we can make our belt this year, the better it will hopefully be next year," Councilor John Perreault said.
In a memo to the council, Brown highlighted the impacts of his proposed department reductions:
• Administration: Relocation of human resources to the Hawthorne School; elimination of rental parking spaces at Stetson Funeral Home.
• Public Works: Reduction of paving and pavement striping; elimination of funding for sidewalks.
• Fire Department: Reduction in overtime, call-back coverage and staff training.
• Parks and Recreation: Closing of Coffin Pond, less watering of athletic fields, discontinue new tree plantings.
Three other departments – the town clerk's office, assessing and finance – face staff eliminations. Cable TV 3, meanwhile, would see a decrease in part-time staff hours.
The Town Council will take public comment on the proposed plan during its regular meeting on April 26. A copy of the proposed budget can be viewed on the town Web site, brunswickme.org
Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org