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Brunswick council adopts $53.4 million budget

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Brunswick council adopts $53.4 million budget

BRUNSWICK — The Town Council adopted a $53.4 million spending plan for fiscal 2011, a budget that includes laying off two high-profile municipal employees.

The two employees, Vanessa Levesque, the natural resources planner, and Craig Worth, the deputy director of Public Works, led to a divided 6-3 budget vote, as separate attempts to restore the positions were struck down by the majority.

The spending plan will require a 1.46 percent increase in property taxes, bumping the mil rate from $22.54 per $1,000 of assessed value to $22.87.

Adoption of the budget also included a $33.3 million spending plan for the School Department, about $55,500 over the state's Essential Program and Services recommendation.

The school budget recently generated controversy for its elimination of freshman sports at Brunswick High School. The shedding of several teaching and administrative positions, however, sparked far less attention from residents.

That wasn't the case for Levesque and Worth, whose retention drew support from a significant contingent of residents and town committee members. Three councilors, Ben Tucker, Benet Pols and Vice Chairwoman Debbie Atwood attempted to restore those positions the 2011 budget, but both motions were defeated, 6-3, on May 27.

Levesque earned more than $42,000 in fiscal 2010, while Worth made more than $76,000. Combined, their salaries equaled about $118,000 – less than half of 1 percent in property tax revenue.

Although the council had originally contemplated a budget with a 2 percent property tax increase, the majority had hoped to go lower, arguing that the town was destined for more financial hardship following the 2011 closure of Brunswick Naval Air Station.

But the minority said base closure would likely necessitate the need for more town staff, especially as it takes on more property and attempts to delineate developable land with Bowdoin College on the west side of the base.

In an earlier budget hearing, Pols worried that laying off Levesque would leave the town without an experienced advocate in the discussions about natural resources. Leaving the determination to Bowdoin's attorneys, Pols said, is like "the fox guarding the hen house."

The majority of councilors worried about so-called legacy costs associated with retaining employees who could be replaced by outside contractors. Several argued the town is protected by its ordinances. However, the minority argued that those laws are not self-executing, and that staff is required for enforcement.

The budget deliberations highlighted differences among the council struggling to tackle a $1.97 million gap brought on by $1.4 million revenue loss – mostly due to slashes in state revenue sharing – and increased expenditures.

The Brunswick school budget will undergo one last test on Tuesday, June 8, when voters will be asked ratify it under the state's school budget adoption law.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or smistler@theforecaster.net