Residents call for reversal of proposed budget cuts in Brunswick

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BRUNSWICK — If the Town Council uses Monday’s public comments as the only metric for determining spending in fiscal 2011, residents can probably expect a property tax increase beyond the proposed bump of 2 percent. 

Even with a 2 percent increase, the council will be forced to reduce municipal staffing, services and traditional subsidies to the Curtis Memorial Library, the Brunswick Downtown Association and People Plus.

But all 25 residents who spoke during Monday’s council meeting opposed most of those cuts, in particular the $107,000 trimming of the library’s subsidy, a reduction that has triggered a blitz of e-mails, phone calls and letters to councilors.

“I’m asking you to raise taxes to keep all the wonderful services the town provides,” said Marybeth Latti, a School Board member. “We don’t have to cut all this stuff … let’s keep Brunswick vibrant.”

Latti’s comments were the most straightforward with regard to hiking the tax rate, which currently stands at $22.54 per $1,000 of assessed value. A 2 percent budget increase would increase the mil rate to $22.99.

But a 2 percent hike won’t restore the scheduled library reduction, which represents about one-third of 1 percent, nor will it avoid the layoffs or other subsidy cuts outlined in Town Manager Gary Brown’s proposed budget of $28.8 million.

A budget retaining current staffing and service funding levels would require a 6.5 percent increase, or a $24 mil rate.

Although a handful of speakers indicated support for a status quo budget, it’s doubtful the majority of councilors will take that path. In recent weeks, after a significant number of e-mails and correspondence asking the council to hold the line on taxes, several councilors have called for additional cuts to all but eliminate the tax increase.

But Monday’s meeting was dominated by calls to restore the library subsidy and a $50,000 cut to the Brunswick Downtown Association.

The BDA cut was opposed by Dick Morrell, co-chairman of Downeast Energy. Morrell called the BDA as the town’s most significant catalyst for business attraction. 

BDA Chairman Rob Jarratt agreed, saying the town’s $50,000 allocation helps pay for the organization’s executive director and finances its marketing efforts.

Members of the Conservation and Recycling and Sustainability committees urged the council to retain the natural resources planner and the deputy of Public Works, two of seven positions scheduled for elimination.

Most comments were about the reduction in the library subsidy, which officials there say could lead to a reduction in days of operation or suspension of a popular inter-library book loan service.

Chris Goodwin, president of the library board of directors, said library visits increased 22 percent over the last five years while staffing levels have remained flat.

“In difficult times, how a community treats the library is an indication of what that community wants to be,” Goodwin said.

At one point, council Chairwoman Joanne King sought to remind library supporters that the Town Council doesn’t specify where the library cuts come from, just as it doesn’t determine how the library spends its money.

According to the town’s Finance Department, 72.5 percent of the library’s fiscal 2010 budget is dedicated to employee expenses, including salaries and benefits.

The town’s current library subsidy, $1.08 million, is about 83 percent of the library’s $1.28 million operating budget.

Other proposed cuts were discussed, including the closing of Coffin Pond.

Meanwhile, the council is awaiting final numbers from the School Department, which has proposed a $32.8 million budget. That allocation request could rise or fall depending on negotiations with the teachers union.

Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski said contract talks are close to completion. However, he said, the district is waiting on the union’s response to a proposal for no pay increase and a moratorium on graduate courses. Combined, those measures could save the district about $500,000, Perzanoski said.

The council’s public hearing on the municipal budget will be held May 17, followed by a vote on May 27.

The council is expected to hold a workshop on the spending plan on Monday, May 3.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or [email protected]