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Brunswick council hopes to cap tax hike at 7%

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Brunswick council hopes to cap tax hike at 7%

BRUNSWICK — After being asked to make cuts to their original budget proposal, School Board members Wednesday said they're willing to cut more than $772,000 from the proposed $35.7 million school budget.

Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski presented the School Board with different scenarios of cuts Wednesday night, based on the Town Council's request to reduce the fiscal 2014 tax hike from 10 percent to somewhere between 5 percent and 7 percent. 

The more than $772,000 in school budget cuts would come from eliminating currently unfilled positions and a couple of existing ones. The cuts also include $264,000 in savings, based on the School Board's hope that Gov. Paul LePage's proposal to shift state teacher retirement costs to local districts doesn't pass.

The School Board had previously budgeted the proposed shift of $264,000 in state teacher retirement costs, but it now joins other communities, like Portland, in rejecting that possibility.

"This is a calculated risk, but I still think it's a reasonable risk, given the situation we're in," Perzanoski said.

If the town passes a school budget that doesn't plan for state teacher retirement costs being shifted to local districts and the proposal goes through, the School Department would either have to ask the town for more money or eliminate expenses.

Most of the School Board members agreed it's a risk worth taking. But board member William Thompson expressed doubts about the plan.

"I think this is very risky," Thompson said. "Currently, there are no alternatives being offered out there. ... I don't know where (the state Legislature is) going to find the substitute on this particular piece, if they're going to find substitutes for (municipal) revenue sharing and substitutes for other cuts."

On Monday, the Town Council announced that the original 12 percent tax hike for next year's budget is no longer a figure property owners will have to worry about.

At a previous budget workshop, Town Manager Gary Brown said that as a result of the change in some local property assessments, and savings identified in the School Department, the town was able to reduce the proposed tax hike from nearly 12 percent to a little over 10 percent.

Brown said a change in some property assessments resulted in an additional $250,000 in tax revenue. He said the elimination of debt on a loan for the former Hawthorne School opened up another $87,500 and an additional $200,000 was brought forward from the School Department's surplus.

Also on Monday, the council  heard from residents about the proposed $58.3 million combined town, school and county budget, and councilors agreed that cuts still need to be made.

Most councilors said they could accept a 5-7 percent tax hike, while a few said they would prefer an even smaller tax rate increase.

As a result, Brown and Perzanoski created different levels of cuts for the School Board and Town Council to consider that would put the proposed tax hike in the 5-7 percent range.

The Town Council was expected to discuss possible cuts in the $21.4 million town budget in a workshop Thursday night.

Among the citizens who spoke up at the council's Monday night meeting, many said they support the School Budget's currently proposed school budget while others said it doesn't reflect the smaller student population that is the result of the closing of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.

"My deepest concern is that no one in authority challenges costs escalating at such unsustainable rates, or asked what we're getting in return for a constant increases in spending and taxes," said Pem Schaeffer of Crestview Lane.

Ed Cowan, owner of Sunshine Too Laundromat at Cooks Corner, said his concern is that the town is spending money that it doesn't have.

"I haven't had a raise since 2005," Cowan said. "I haven't raised prices at my laundromat since 2008. I can't afford to raise the prices because there's  too many competitors that are out-of-town that people can go to, to do it cheaper."

Some parents and other citizens concerned about school budget cuts said they are concerned about the Town Council's lack of action in lobbying against several years of repeated cuts to local appropriations from the state.

Vladimir Douhovnikoff, of Longfellow Road, said the town has a "moral responsibility and self interest to preserve and support the institutions that define who we are as a town."

School Board member Rich Ellis called the council's budget process as "a little disheartening," because he said councilors haven't fully considered possible cuts on the municipal side of the budget.

"I wholly appreciate (Brown's) statement last week that he could propose cuts to the municipal budget, 'but councilors aren't going to like it and it will be painful,'" Ellis said. "The reason I appreciate it is it would be no different than the school district."

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