Brunswick Town Council got a look at a preliminary budget proposal by municipal departments at its regular meeting on Feb. 5, which includes a $1.4 million increase over last year.

Town Manager John Eldridge presented the preliminary budget – still in a very early stage – in the hopes of getting early guidance on what the council wanted for tax increases. The $1.4 million increase doesn’t take into account the school budget, which makes up roughly 60 percent of Brunswick’s spending.

Eldridge said that the town is not expecting any increase in revenue sharing, which would have amounted to roughly $1.5 million if it hadn’t been decreased by the state. The budget could also be forced to change by future state actions.

Last year, last-minute changes to the state’s Homestead Reimbursement cut the funding provided from that program, forcing Brunswick to also make some cuts.

Of the $1.4 million, roughly $600,000 is increases to salaries and benefits for town employees.

“Health insurance is a huge driver, and so is retirement,” said Eldridge.

Typically, Brunswick has aimed for a 3 percent or lower tax increase. A recent re-valuation of property has, according to Eldridge, led to relatively little increase in revenues for the town.

Rough projections show that for every 1 percent increase in taxes, the town would receive another $166,152. In order to meet the 3 percent tax increase threshold, the budget would have to be cut drastically from what it is now.

“If we’re going to get to $400,000, we’ve got to cut a million,” he said. Because that $400,000 is lower than the current projected benefit and salary increases, layoffs would be likely. “There are two or three positions in there that probably won’t survive.”

Also included in the budget is a project to fix Kimberly Circle, a road that was installed in the 1980s and has seen almost no maintenance since.

“Paving it alone is probably not going to help, it needs to be reshaped,” said Eldridge. “We used to do it out of an operating budget on an annual basis. That stopped when revenue sharing got cut substantially.”

Some councilors balked at the idea of facing steep increases without drastic cuts, given the future increase to debt service the town will be paying in the next few years.

“We are looking at, in 2021, increasing our annual debt service from 1.5 million to 3.2 million just to pay for the new school,” said Councilor Alison Harris. “That is not including the new fire station, which is likely to come on at the same time.”

Councilor Steve Walker was critical of Augusta for cutting the revenue sharing program, as well as educational funding.

“I think it’s important for the people of the town to know what we can’t do, because of politics in Augusta,” he said. “It’s a shame to see what we’re losing out on thanks to Augusta and politics.”

While most councilors advocated for department heads forming their budgets with a 3 percent tax increase in mind, Councilor James Mason said the goal should be to see what departments feel they need, and cut back from there.

“We need to see what we’re not funding.” he said.

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