Tax-hike ceiling threatens Brunswick capital projects
BRUNSWICK — The town may have to defer paving, vehicle replacement, and other capital improvement projects to realize a tax increase of no more than 4 percent.
A plan to cut more than $1 million from the combined municipal-school budget was still being formulated as councilors prepared for a public hearing on the proposed budget Thursday evening, after The Forecaster's deadline.
"We have a work in progress," interim Town Manager John Eldridge told councilors at a budget hearing Monday.
Unamended, the combined budget will mean a 7.1 percent tax hike, an increase councilors last week rejected, stating that property owners cannot withstand another increase of that magnitude.
Eldridge told the council the town will have to cut $530,000 and the schools $580,000 to limit the tax increase to 4 percent, the amount councilors declared as a ceiling in a meeting last week.
Cuts from the town's side will include taking money from paving projects, as well as putting off replacing vehicles for the fire, police, public works and recreation departments, which were put into the budget as the first phase of a long-term plan developed earlier this year by the Capital Improvement Plan Committee.
Councilors Suzan Wilson and Sarah Brayman, who served on the CIP committee, said they were disappointed to see their recommendations cut, but Wilson said she was optimistic that the improvements could be deferred for another year.
Eliminating funding to outside groups and other measures to reduce expenditures are also on the table, Eldridge told councilors.
Responding to requests from Councilor John Perreault, Eldridge said a precise rundown of proposed cuts was not available and the town may still be able to bring in some revenue to offset the reductions.
Unexpectedly strong revenue from building permits might cushion the blow, Eldridge said.
Planning Director Anna Breinich told Councilors her department was already $44,000 ahead of its revenue projections, and as much as $175,000 may come in by the end of the year.
Even with that "glimmer of hope," prospects for the CIP committee's recommendations are dim, Eldridge said.
"I'd like to think it is a deferral, but in all honesty, given what we're looking at and what we already have for built-in increases for next year's budget, I think it's wishful thinking that we're going to fund this at the CIP-recommended level next year," he said.
Although deep cuts may be required to get the town to a 4 percent tax increase, Councilors Brayman, Wilson, Perreault, Stephen Walker and David Watson said they also want to see a scenario for bringing the tax increase down to 3.5 percent.
Eldridge planed to bring that outlook to Thursday's hearing.
At a meeting Wednesday, the School Board accepted budget recommendations made by Superintendent Paul Perzanowski that, through cuts and new revenue, would reduce the tax burden by $611,500.
Cuts include those proposed by Perzanowski late last month, but also have more that $88,000 in personnel reductions, balanced by a revenue boost of $110,000 in Federal special education funding and $42,000 in bond revenue.
Perzanowski told board members he was uncertain what course the School Department will be forced to take if councilors stick to a maximum 3.5 percent tax increase.
Councilors still have another two weeks to debate changes to the municipal spending plan before adopting a budget on May 29. Residents will go to the polls June 10 to vote on a budget for the schools.