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Brunswick school budget change requires vote, no tax hike

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Brunswick school budget change requires vote, no tax hike

BRUNSWICK — There will be no additional tax hike after the Town Council approved changes to the municipal and school budgets on Aug. 8.

Residents will have to approve the amended school budget in a referendum on Aug. 20, as required by state law.

Councilors had to revisit both budgets after the state approved a biennial budget in June that created a $316,000 budget gap for the town and $508,000 in extra revenue for the School Department.

Town Manager Gary Brown said the figures are based on new revenue projections from the state's municipal revenue-sharing program and state education aid. 

Residents already face a 6.6 percent property tax increase from the combined $57 million county, school and municipal budgets passed earlier this year.

With Councilors Ben Tucker, Sarah Brayman and Benet Pols absent, the council unanimously approved the amended school budget, which has an extra $508,000 in state education aid.

$443,000 of the extra revenue will be used to pay for state teacher retirement costs that were shifted from the state to local school districts.

The remaining amount will be used to pay PDT Architects of Portland for the next phase of plans for possible construction of a new elementary school and renovations at Brunswick Junior High School.

Residents will vote on the amended school budget at Brunswick Junior High School, 65 Columbia Ave., from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 20.

If they don't approve the revision, the extra $508,000 will remain earmarked for education expenditures in next year's budget, Assistant Superintendent Greg Bartlett said.

But it's unclear how the School Department will otherwise cover the additional $443,000 teacher retirement costs and PDT's school planning fees, he said.

School Board members began discussing the possibility of constructing a new elementary school earlier this summer, after PDT estimated that renovations at Coffin Elementary School and the junior high school would cost about $38 million.

A bond package for the project could have caused a nearly 10 percent tax hike in the bond's first year of debt service.

The board has since decided to delay renovations at the junior high school and explore constructing a new elementary school, which has been estimated to cost about $4 million more, or $22 million.

PDT is expected to present a deeper analysis of construction costs at a September meeting, with some possible site recommendations.

A school construction bond referendum could go to voters by fall 2014.

After the Town Council approved the amended school budget last week, the council voted 4-2 on an amendment to the fill the municipal budget gap with $287,000 in reductions across several departments.

The amendment will further fill the gap with $20,000 from the town's revenue-sharing balance from the last fiscal year.

The amendment was passed after councilors voted 4-2 to restore $9,000 to a proposed $18,000 reduction in the Fire Department's on-call firefighter budget, after Councilor John Perreault expressed concerns about losing the funds.

Council Chairwoman Suzan Wilson and Vice Chairwoman Margo Knight opposed both the amendment and the restoration of funds.

The original proposal would have completely eliminated the Fire Department's stipend budget for on-call firefighters. The recommendation was made by Fire Chief Ken Brillant after the town requested budget reductions from every department.

Councilors said they expect to fund the $9,000 with profits from the sale of the Recreation Center at 30 Federal St. to the Brunswick Development Corp., which remains under negotiation.

If the Recreation Center sale proceeds come up short, Town Manager Gary Brown said he expects the town will cover the $9,000 with various kinds of revenue, including revenue from the excise tax.

Other expenses cut from the town budget include a new police cruiser, hiring of new police officers, public works general maintenance, and paving of Columbia Avenue and Belmont Street.

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