Brewer News

Brewer City Council sends $500,000 school budget hike to voters

BREWER, Maine — (06/06/2017) — Cheri Towle, right, superintendent of Brewer School Department, talks with Brewer City Council members Bev Uhlenhake, left, and Joe Ferris during a break in Tuesday’s meeting.

BREWER, Maine — The city council didn’t give the school department all of the $1 million it requested for education, but it did approve half the amount to support special education and existing sports programs.

In its Tuesday evening meeting where it approved a $21.3 million school budget, the council also modified the municipal budget to continue funding a school resource officer — which the school board had proposed cutting — and voted to fund a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics program at the high school, with the school and city splitting the cost.

“There was some pushback this year because we’re trying to tell you: We need these things to survive, we need these things to grow, we need these things for our children to flourish,” Kevin Forrest, school board chairman, said just before Councilor Bev Uhlenhake made the motion, which was supported by all of the councilors, to amend both budgets to add the STEM program.

The proposed school budget next will go before voters on Tuesday.
The decision came after weeks of sparring between Brewer city leaders and school officials over a budget request that Superintendent Cheri Towles pegged to 130 new students in the last school year. City officials have disputed that number, pointing to a document the school department filed with the state showing it lost seven students between October and April.

The council tapped undesignated funds, or leftover money from previous budgets used as a cushion, from both the school department and the city — split 50-50 — to cover the $113,269 cost of adding STEM.

The fiscal year 2017-18 municipal budget approved Tuesday was $13,228,252, a 2.58 percent increase, and the school budget was $21,326,022, a 2.67 percent increase.

The resulting combined $35.5 million budget, which also includes $951,757 in Penobscot County taxes, has an estimated overall tax increase of $.98, raising the rate to $22.50 per $1,000 in assessed property value.

The city council also approved allowing the school department to spend any additional funds from the state — a total that will not be known until the end of June. Current estimates of the increase are between $200,000 and $300,000, several officials at the meeting said.

Councilor Jerry Goss said he could not increase the school budget amount by $1 million, which would have raised the tax rate by $1.77 per $1,000 in property value, after hearing from three of the city’s largest employers and taxpayers who said they were considering moving out of state if taxes rose that much.

By Nok-Noi Ricker, BDN Staff
Posted June 07, 2017, at 5 p.m.