News

Proposed budget nudges up Westbrook property tax bills 1.5%


Westbrook residents can expect a 1.5% increase in their property tax bills if the municipal and school budgets are approved as presented this week.

The proposed $30.9 million municipal budget is up about $2.7 million over this year’s budget. The 9% increase, however, is offset by a 13%, or $2 million, growth in revenues over the past year. The new revenue covers the city increase and also helps offset the 4.3% increase in the proposed school budget, up $1.8 million to $43.9 million. Without that offset, the school budget would cause a 5% increase in property taxes.

The combined budget meets Mayor Mike Foley’s goal of keeping the property tax increase below 3%.

“We remain highly cognizant of the economic challenges facing many of our residents, homeowners and businesses. Many businesses are still trying to navigate the long-term impacts of the pandemic that remain with us,” Foley said Monday at a meeting of the City Council’s Finance Committee.

The combined budget would increase the property tax rate by 27 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. That would mean an annual increase of $62.48 to the owner of an average-priced home in the city of $231,400, according to Foley.

Councilors Monday were mostly pleased with the budget and pointed out that the city has not had a tax increase in the past two years. The council will hold another Finance Committee meeting May 2 to go over the remaining department budgets, before a vote later in May. Voters will weigh in on the school budget on June 14.

Municipal budget plans

Included in the proposed municipal budget is $60,000 for increased police training.

Advertisement

Training focused on implicit bias and mental health has paid off, Westbrook Police Chief Sean Lally said. Police calls involving use of force dropped to 73 through 2021, down from 90 the previous year.

The department’s mental health liaison also has been a benefit, Lally said.

“Our approach to mental health has been a big part of it,” he said. “We are not dealing with the same people over and over, we are now able to direct them to treatment more often.”

The budget also includes $200,000 in wage increases to boost the department’s ability to attract and retain officers.

“Recruiting retention and diversity of the workforce are the biggest. We want to mirror the community we serve,” Lally said.

Public Services is also looking to increase salaries by $160,000 across the department. Currently the department is short-staffed.

Advertisement

Other proposed increases for Public Services are $190,000 for paving, $25,000 for downtown items like Christmas lights, $30,000 for vehicle repair and $30,000 for contracted curbside recycling pickup.

The Planning Department also looks to increase full-time staff salaries by a total of $26,037 and, as it brings on more help to handle a growing number of applications $28,281 for part-timers.

School spending plans 

The $43.9 million proposed school budget received a mixed review from councilors.

Councilors David Morse and Claude Rwaganje spoke in favor of it, while Gary Rairdon, Victor Chau and council President Anna Turcotte said they were concerned particularly about the number of new positions included in the budget.

The new positions are responsible for most of the 4.3% school budget increase, according to Superintendent Peter Lancia. They include a kindergarten teacher at Congin; two English language learner teachers for Saccarappa and the middle school; a STEAM teacher; expanding two part-time jobs, the assistant principal position at Saccarappa and the assistant director for special ed, to full-time positions; transitioning three librarians from ed tech wages to teacher wages; a social worker to serve both Saccarappa and the middle school; and a district accountant.

“I support the school. (My family has) had amazing experiences, but I would say the test scores concern me,” Turcotte said. “We keep adding to the budget and the test scores are not improving. That is concerning to me.

Advertisement

Chau pointed out that of the 715 school department employees, only 270 are teachers.

Morse said the proposed added positions are warranted.

I feel like the positions they have added they defended well on why they were necessary,” he said.

Morse and Rwaganje said the proposed budget is more digestible than this year’s, and noted tensions are not nearly as high between the School Committee and council as they were a a year ago.

Last year, some residents turned out to meetings to complain about a lack of collaboration between the School Committee and City Council, sparking now collaborative meetings of both boards and city and school administrators.

“I think the budget is a fair request based on the needs of our schools,” Lancia told the American Journal in a phone interview Friday. “It’s responsive to the community’s needs as well, and we’ve worked with the mayor’s office throughout the process.” 

Advertisement



Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.