BREWER, Maine — Decreases within the school budget have helped to offset increases in the municipal and county budgets that result in a slight increase in the overall draft budget but a projected flat tax rate, Brewer city and school officials said Tuesday.
The preliminary $34.6 million combined budget for fiscal year 2017-18 “maintains a stable mill rate of $21.52 despite the loss of more than $205,000 in tax revenue due to the increase in Homestead Exemption and a $33,300, or 3.7 percent, rise in the [Penobscot] County tax assessment,” City Manager Steve Bost told the Brewer City Council.
With the unchanged property tax rate, homeowners who qualify for the Homestead Exemption “will see a decrease of $107 in their tax bills,” Bost said.
The proposed combined budget is $296,352 more than this year’s $34.3 million budget.
“We are very pleased to present a budget that maintains current levels of programs and services without an increase in the tax rate,” Finance Director Karen Fussell said Tuesday.
As part of the municipal budget, there is a planned sewer rate increase, but no increase is planned for water users.
“After three years with no change in rates, the sewer department is requesting an increase of 40 cents per 100 cubic feet of usage,” Bost said. “This change adds about $5 per quarter to the average household sewer bill. The city last adjusted the sewer rate in July 2012.”
The school board unveiled a $20.78 million draft budget last month that shows a decrease of $169,498 compared to this year, Superintendent Cheri Towle told the city council.
The Brewer School Department announced at the April school board meeting that it expected to lay off 13 staff members because of a significant loss in revenue next year, but adjusted the figure as six people took retirement incentives and a few others decided to leave for other jobs, she said.
“We have five people who are currently looking for work,” Towle said of those given pink slips, adding that she believed three already have job offers.
The reason for the teacher departures is based entirely on declining student populations and higher than average teacher-to-student ratios, Towle said.
The current Brewer High School ratio is 12 students for each teacher and the guidelines suggest a 15:1 ratio, the superintendent said, adding that the student population has dropped by nearly a third over the last decade. The student population has decreased from 919 students a decade ago to 647 this year.
“We had only lost about five teachers … but we had lost about 300 students” in that same time period, Towle said. “We had to decide how we could offer the same programming with fewer teachers.”
The cuts “right-size” the school department, she said.
“The teaching positions we have now are appropriate for the number of students in that building,” the superintendent said.
City councilors accepted the budgets at Tuesday’s hearing, and will take them up again at their June 7 meeting. Residents also will head to the polls on June 14 to vote on the school budget referendum.
From the Bangor Daily News by Nok-Noi Ricker, posted June 1, 2016.