May 21, 2013

Waterville approves $20.3M schools budget; delays recycling operator change

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE — City councilors voted 5-1 on Tuesday to approve a proposed $20.3 million school budget for 2013-14.

They took two final votes on the proposal, which now goes to voters in a June 11 referendum. The Board of Education will take a final vote on the budget in July.

Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D-Ward 7, was the only councilor to vote against approving the budget. Councilor Eliza Mathias, D-Ward 6, was absent from Tuesday's meeting.

Rancourt-Thomas said she is not against the proposal, but opposes Gov. Paul LePage's forcing municipalities to make budget decisions when they do not know if they will get revenue sharing funds or have to pay for part of teacher retirement.

"I'm not against the school department," Rancourt-Thomas said. "I fully support it. I do not support what Augusta is doing, and that is the only reason."

The school board on Monday took a first vote to approve the school budget, with board members also saying they were concerned about approving a proposal while not having hard numbers.

Meanwhile, Mayor Karen Heck said she learned Tuesday that the Legislature is not, so far, inclined to change LePage's budget proposal, which means there will be no revenue sharing unless residents tell legislators not to balance a budget on taxpayers' backs.

"Waterville stands to lose a little bit more than $2 million with all the switches and changes," Heck said.

She said the Mayors Coalition has offered a number of solutions to the revenue sharing and teacher retirement issues, including withdrawing the proposed $350 million income tax cut passed last year by the Legislature but never paid for.

"We suggest expanding the lodging tax from 7 to 10 percent to take advantage of out-of-state visitors," she said.

Mayors also suggest increasing the sales tax 1 cent, and have discussed comprehensive tax reform, according to Heck.

"This is serious, so I hope everybody is paying attention and calls (legislators) because honestly, the Legislature works for us. We elect them, so tell them what you want."

In other matters, the council decided to delay voting on whether to develop a recycling program with Craig Lefebvre on Armory Road until the council's next meeting in two weeks.

The decision to delay came after Jim Dunning, assistant general manager of Pine Tree Waste Services, which has a transfer station on Airport Road, said his company could offer single-stream recycling. He said his company was the low bidder in the city's request for a single-stream recycler, but the city chose to continue sorting recyclables.

The city has paid Skills Inc. on Industrial Park Road $12,500 a year for resident recycling, but Skills will stop taking items such as plastic, paper and metal starting July 1.

Meanwhile, resident Stu Silverstein urged the council to restart a curbside recycling program, saying that in the long run, the city would save money because its solid-waste stream would be reduced.

"The whole country is moving toward single-stream, curbside recycling," Silverstein said. "They have it in Brewer, Augusta and Madison, Maine. If Madison, Maine, can figure out how to do this, we certainly can."

Amy Calder — 861-9247
acalder@centralmaine.com

 

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