BRUNSWICK, Maine — Residents are facing a more than 10 percent tax rate increase if councilors decide to adopt the proposed 2013-2014 budget.
Vladimir Douhovnikoff, a Bowdoin professor and supporter of area schools, echoed the voices of many other residents on Monday when he told councilors they have “a moral responsibility [to support the schools] and the institutions that define who we are as a town.”
Years of state and local funding cuts have left the council in increasingly difficult positions, and this year they face a potential 10.35 percent tax rate increase to reach the $58.3 million combined municipal and school budget.
Approximately 200 people filled the council chambers Monday night as residents waited to share their view on the budget. And, as in previous years, nearly all discussion revolved around the proposed school budget — this year currently slated to be $35.7 million. That figure includes $847,000 in new and expanded positions, largely in student services and special education that Superintendent Paul Perzanoski told the Bangor Daily News last Thursday is necessary because nearly 18 percent of the student population uses special education services.
But on Monday, Brunswick resident Ed Cowan said the proposed tax rate increase, on top of last year’s, is simply unsustainable. He urged councilors to “cut the fat.”
“We are spending money and we don’t have it,” Cowan, who owns the Sunshine Too Laundromat at Cooks Corner, told the council. “Last year you raised our taxes 6 percent; this year you want to double that or better. I haven’t had a raise since 2005.”
“No one wants layoffs, but we’ve got to cut the fat … I want good education,” Cowan added later. “My children went to Brunswick High School [but] if I have to move out of Brunswick, I’ll move out of Brunswick … We don’t need to be hiring, we need to be laying off. Everybody gets laid off sometimes.”
“Nobody spends somebody else’s money as carefully as they spend their own,” Pem Schaeffer said, objecting to the “astonishing increase” in per pupil spending. “My deepest concern is that no one in authority challenges costs escalating at such unsustainable rates, or asks what we’re getting in return for constant increases in spending and taxes.”
But Sarah Singer, speaking on behalf of the group Brunswick Community United, was among many others who urged councilors to support the school budget, including increased funding for special education.
Still, Singer told councilors that she was disappointed that no councilors or school board members joined a group of Brunswick parents when they spoke against cuts to school funding at the state Appropriations Committee in Augusta earlier this year.
“I feel like I’m waiting for the elected leaders of our town, towns across the state, to show up in Augusta and say, ‘This isn’t working for us,’” Singer said. “We recommend you call your peers at town councils and schools around the state, get a yellow school bus and go up to Augusta and bang on the doors and say, ‘This isn’t working.’”
School board member Rich Ellis said he was “a bit disheartened” with the council’s budget process, and added, “I hope when we are looking at this, we are working in a collaborative fashion and not just pushing the number from one side to the other.”
Several councilors said a property tax increase of 5-7 percent would be acceptable, and the council charged Town Manager Gary Brown and the superintendent with meeting later this week to create what Brown called a “shopping list” of possible budget reductions with information about the potential impact of those cuts.
The council is scheduled to adopt the budget on May 23.