AUBURN — City officials gave final approval to both municipal and school budgets Monday, sending next year’s $48.3 million school budget onto voters June 8.
While next year’s school budget represents an overall increase of $2.53 million over this year, a $2.39 million increase in revenue means an increase to taxpayers of $145,819.
According to a memo to the council from Auburn schools’ business manager Adam Hanson, the first annual debt payment on the new Edward Little High School accounts for $1.76 million of the total budget increase.
With the $44.4 million municipal budget, taxpayers will see a 19-cent increase to the property tax rate. That breaks down to 10 cents from the city, 7 cents from the School Department, and 2 cents from the intergovernmental and county budgets.
The increase is slated to bring Auburn’s tax rate to $23.94 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, meaning homes valued at $200,000 would see an increase of $38.
Officials have called the overall budget a success, and a sign of continued collaboration between municipal and school officials.
When asked by a councilor if the school budget will be enough to sustain the vision and direction of school officials, Superintendent Connie Brown said it will “support the goals” set by the School Committee, including lowering class sizes at the elementary level.
Councilor Holly Lasagna said she commended the work from school officials, stating, “we’ve seen what happens when people don’t work together on the school budget, and I’m proud we were able to do that.”
Lasagna was likely referring to the recent process in Lewiston, which saw the City Council initially vote down the proposed school budget amid a testy back and forth between officials. It was approved last week by a 4-3 vote.
However, Mayor Jason Levesque pointed out that it hasn’t always been as easy. He said the 6-0 school budget vote Monday was the first unanimous vote “for the first time in maybe decades.”
Levesque has also lauded next year’s budget, arguing that the projected tax rate increase is “well below the level of inflation.”
City Manager Phil Crowell said there’s still a chance the final tax rates could change, however, due to budget talks in Augusta related to municipal revenue sharing. A proposal from Gov. Janet Mills would restore revenue sharing to the 5% mark, which would be welcome news to local governments.
Crowell said that if anything is confirmed prior to July 1, city staff may come back with a supplementary budget that could bring the tax levy down.
The council Monday also approved $11 million in capital improvement bonding for next year after Councilor Leroy Walker made a motion to add $800,000 to the bond for future implementation of the city’s Comprehensive Plan.
The city is in the middle of a lengthy process to update three sections of its comprehensive plan, including future land use. Walker did not give specific details on why he believed the funds should be added other than stating that the funding was “badly needed.”
The vote was 5-1, with Councilor Belinda Gerry opposed.
The school budget validation referendum will be held Tuesday, June 8.
Brown said a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Edward Little High School will be held Saturday, May 22.