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July 2, 2013

Waterville council gives final OK to $36.3 million budget

WATERVILLE — City councilors voted Tuesday night to accept a $36.3 million combined municipal and school budget for 2013-2014, which will increase the city's property tax rate by $1.75 per $1,000 worth of assessed property.

The vote was the third and final chance for councilors to weigh the budget, which passed by a vote of 4-2.

The proposed municipal budget is $16.1 million, while the proposed school budget is $20.2 million.

The school budget includes about $115,000 in additional cuts approved by the Waterville School Board on Monday, which in combination with an expected $50,000 increase in excise tax revenue will increase the city's current property tax rate of $25.65 per $1,000 of assessed property value by $1.75, according to City Manager Mike Roy.

That means that the taxes on a $100,000 home would go up by $175.

"We have looked at every way to reduce costs, and I think the schools and other city departments have done all they can," said Eliza Mathias, D-Ward 6. She was one of four councilors to support the budget along with Michael Owens, D-Ward 2, Rosemary Winslow, D-Ward 3, and Erik Thomas, D-Ward 4.

Councilors Fred Stubbert, D-Ward 1, and John O'Donnell, D-Ward 5, voted against the budget.

O'Donnell said he could not support the $1.75 increase.

Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D–Ward 7, who supported the budget in a past vote, was not at the meeting.

Councilors Tuesday also met with officials from the Waterville Sewerage District to discuss an annual $271,000 stormwater treatment fee that the city pays to the district. It has been disputed by some city officials, who say the city has been singled out as the only customer to pay the fee, even though the district also provides service to about 11 or 12 nonprofit organizations that do not pay property taxes.

"Some of our councilors are concerned that property taxpayers may be paying for some charges that could be apportioned to other users," said Mayor Karen Heck.

In addition to the $271,000 stormwater treatment fee, the city pays the district $266,800 every year for maintenance of its stormwater catch basin system.

District superintendent Roland LaPointe said the district understands the city's concerns, but that the district does not want to undertake a rate study this year as the city has requested them to do.

"There is no basis to support the city's argument," said LaPointe. He said the district has conducted two rate studies since 2009 and that misleading language in the billing makes it appear that the city is paying for stormwater treatment, when actually they are just paying for transportation of stormwater to the Kennebec Sanitary Treatment District.

LaPointe said a rate study would automatically raise rate fees for all of the district's users because water use patterns have changed since the last rate study.

Mathias said that taxpayers are already facing increased costs for the upcoming year.

"A rate study would help us understand what some of those costs are and where they come from," she said.

Roy said he is not convinced that the rates for the sewerage district are fair and that the city will continue discussions with the district.

"We need to sit down and get to the nitty gritty of it," said Roy.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368
rohm@mainetoday.com





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