CUMBERLAND – The Cumberland Town Council on Monday passed Mayor Jeff Mutter’s $111.2 million budget plan for 2022-2023, though the document and its associated tax increase won’t be finalized until next spring due to the town’s unsynchronized budget.

Revisions include a $253,000 grant to the schools, a step toward kickstarting conversations on next year’s budget, which is expected to be significantly more challenging. The money doesn’t become part of the school allocation going forward, and officials on a committee led by Councilor Lisa Beaulieu will decide whether it should be released to the schools.

Schools are still facing a shortfall of nearly $1.4 million, School Committee Chairperson Karen Freedman told the council on Monday, and the school board will meet June 23 to look at ways to address the gap with various cuts before approving their spending plan. Supt. Phil Thornton has made a number of recommendations, she said, including cutting five teacher positions and making changes to busing.

The budget, including about a 3-percent increase, passed Monday by a vote of 4-2, with council members Jim Metivier and Tim Magill voting no. The overall increase will become much clearer over the next 45 days or so, said Mutter, with many moving pieces.

Mutter said there was some confusion about what appeared to be a reduction to the Police Department and how it might be tied to the increase for the schools, but the cut to that line item was because the town hasn’t been able to spend its budget on police cars and was essentially double-counting the money.

“No member of the council lowered public safety,” he said.

Mutter noted that the town has had similar line items for school contributions each of the past couple of years.

Council President Mike Kinch commended Mutter and others for their work on the budget. It’s never easy, he said, and while things are still a bit tight, they’re better than they were a few months ago.

Freedman said the real work will be facing down what is expected to be a “pretty bad” situation with an expected structural deficit next year, and “what can we do to help make it not so bad.” Some items are outside of officials’ control, she said, and it will be important to manage what is in their control.

Kinch and Mutter noted some positives for the budget, including $749,000 in expected school aid coming to the town and the likely addressing of a shortfall on car taxes with the state seeking to phase out the tax completely. This was about as good a conclusion as could have been hoped for, said Mutter.

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