BELFAST, Maine — Belfast’s city manager said the city can no longer wait for the school district to get a budget approved at referendum before the tax rate is set.
City Manager Joseph Slocum said he will propose to councilors Tuesday night that a tax rate be set regardless of whether the third referendum is approved by the eight communities of Regional School Unit 20.
And Belfast taxpayers will be seeing an increase whether the referendum is approved or rejected.
The manager said he will propose having the rate set and tax bills sent out in late September with payments due in October. Normally tax bills are sent out in August, but the city has waited until it knew how much would be owed to RSU 20.
Voters from the member communities have shot down the RSU 20 budget twice this year — at the annual June referendum and again last month. The last budget proposal failed 956-417.
The third attempt is Tuesday when residents of Belfast, Belmont, Morrill, Northport, Searsmont, Searsport, Stockton Springs and Swanville go to the polls.
Belfast’s current tax rate is $19.80, but under the currently proposed budget, the tax rate will increase to between $20.64 and $21.67. This means the bill for a property assessed at $100,000 would increase by at least $84 and as much as $187, the city manager said.
The city will be required to pay an additional $867,627 to the school district based on the current budget, a 10.5 percent increase from the past year.
If the school budget is rejected, Slocum said he recommends the city tax bills be based on what the currently proposed budget is.
If the eventual budget comes in less, the city would set aside the extra money for next year’s school payments. If the eventual budget comes in the higher, the city might have to send out supplemental tax bills, a move he said he would not want to have to do.
The city manager criticized the state for pushing consolidation which has not led to savings.
“The state slammed us into this relationship, and now it takes climbing Mount Everest to get out,” the manager said.
The city is looking at an independent analysis of whether it makes sense for the city to withdraw from RSU, whether it should merge with the towns that formerly formed School Administrative District 34, or whether the city should go it alone.
He said any subsequent withdrawal vote would most likely be in November 2014 to make sure that there is adequate turnout to make the vote count. A withdrawal vote earlier this year was approved but failed to get the sufficient turnout to meet the state law.