MILLINOCKET, Maine — The Town Council approved a $10.87 million town budget that will slightly increase property taxes and cut several town and school positions.
The council approved a $6.18 million school budget and a $4.69 million municipal government budget with a series of mostly unanimous votes cast at a special town meeting on Thursday. The votes make the municipal budget official, but residents must approve the school budget. A validation vote is set for Aug. 4, officials said.
Council Chairman Richard Angotti Jr. expressed a grim reluctance after the last vote occurred. The two budgets will produce a 29.63 mill rate, slightly higher than the previous budget’s 29.60 rate, officials said.
The town cut more than $800,000 from its budget over the last three months to offset losses in state aid, declining tax revenues and money once generated by equipment at the former Katahdin Avenue paper mill. The school budget increased $54,473 over last year’s, but still contained significant cuts that offset state aid losses, officials said.
“It has been a trying year and a trying budget,” Angotti said Thursday.
Positions that were eliminated include one firefighter-EMT and an administrative clerk, Angotti said. The school system effectively cut about 75 percent of a kindergarten teacher’s position by moving the teacher into a pre-kindergarten program funded by a $679,000 grant, school Superintendent Frank Boynton said.
A full-time librarian and two part-time library posts were cut from the town budget, but a part-time position will be kept through fundraisers by the town’s friends of the library organization.
The most significant change in the municipal budget on Thursday was the council’s 4-3 vote to restore $30,000 to the library budget, officials said. Without it, the town’s mill rate would be 29.45 mills. Under that, a home valued at $50,000 would draw $1,472 in property taxes annually. That same home under the town’s new rate would be taxed $1,481.
Angotti and Councilors Bryant Davis and Richard Theriault opposed the increase.
“We are in a budget crisis and we don’t have any money,” Davis said. “I have donated trips and funds to keep the library going. It’s not like I am against the library, but we don’t have the money.”
The loss of at least 450 good-paying jobs with the closure of the town’s paper mill in 2008 and the East Millinocket mill in 2014 have forced continued budget cuts. The Katahdin region has not recovered from those losses and typically carries an unemployment rate about twice the state average.
Angotti called for a council economic development effort because of the region’s problems and not, he said, as a sign of support for the national park and recreation area offered by the family of millionaire entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby.
“Until we can get economic growth in here, we are stuck, plain and simple,” Angotti said. “If they [library supporters] think the budget was rough this year, wait until they see next year.”