2013-03-29 / Front Page

Town addresses declining state funding

Initial municipal budget reveals 1.8-percent increase
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Scarborough Town Manager Tom Hall said with dwindling aid from the state Scarborough is being forced to become more and more self-reliant.

Hall told members of the Town Council that in some ways, self-reliance would make his job drafting a municipal budget much easier. Until that happens, however, Hall is tasked with attempting to guess how much state aid will be coming to Scarborough in drafting annual municipal budgets.

“The town budget continues to be challenged and affected by external sources of revenue (the state, which places additional burden on local property taxpayers,” Hall wrote in his budget narrative. “The trend of declining support from the state continues, and now represents only 6.9 percent of the revenues required to cover budget priorities.”

Last week, the Town Council got its first glimpse of the $28.2 million municipal budget, a spending plan that increased expenditures by $497,399, or 1.8 percent.

Because of a $1.5 million loss of revenue from the state — nearly $250,000 less in municipal aid and slightly more than $1.2 million in educational aid — the town is forced to rely more heavily on property tax.

Since fiscal year 2008 the school district has lost nearly half of its state and federal aid for education. In fiscal year 2008, the district received $6.56 million in state and federal aid. The projected number for FY 2014 is $3.47 million, a 47.1 percent reduction from what it received five years ago.

The proposed $56.7 million net town budget — which includes both municipal and education spending — would require a $1.75 increase per thousand in real estate valuation. That would mean an additional $525 in taxes for a taxpayer with a $300,000 home, the average value of a house in Scarborough.

“There is still some work to do and I stand ready with my staff to assist you in that process and that journey,” Hall told the councilors after he went through how the budget would impact the tax rate.

To help keep the municipal spending in check, Hall indicated in his narrative department heads were encouraged to flat-fund their budgets. Many did so. Some departments, including Public Works, came forward with a reduction in spending.

The municipal budget includes funding for several new positions, including four firefighters, a dispatcher, a commercial code enforcement officer/fire inspector and a webmaster for the school and town information technology department. It also includes cost of living increases for nonunion employees.

Hall said the town once had a commercial code enforcement officer, but hasn’t had one in the past few years.

“As we see the economy pick up, we feel it is time to bring this position back,” Hall said.

Hall has included $2.7 million in capital improvements for fiscal year 2014, which includes $500,000 for energy efficiency at Town Hall; $503,000 in road rehabilitation, $695,000 in pedestrian improvements on Black Point Road, the Oak Hill Intersection and Eastern Trail crossing; $400,000 for Jasper Street reconstruction, $112,250 for Pine Point Road sidewalk improvements, $205,000 for a Pleasant Hill Road engineering study and close to $65,000 for Community Services capital improvement projects.

The projects are part of a five-year $32.4 million capital improvement plan. Next fiscal year, $3 million in capital improvement is planned.

In fiscal year 2016, that number could jump to $20.7 million, due to, in large part, $13.8 million in proposed renovations for the Public Safety Building.

The fiscal year 2014 funding requests also include $935,700 in capital equipment purchases. The bulk of that amount ($456,500) stems from a Department of Public Works request for two new plow trucks, a pickup truck, a crash attenuator and a new fuel island for the department and municipal vehicles. Capital equipment requests have also been filed by the fire department ($281,000), police department ($132,300), Community Services ($44,000) and the Scarborough Public Library ($21,900).

The capital equipment plan would reinstate the equipment replacements that were deferred last year.

“I do not recommend we deviate further from the equipment replacement program as this program has proven to reduce maintenance expenses and maintain residual value of vehicles and equipment,” Hall wrote in the narrative.

The school department is currently working on its capital project and capital equipment budgets.

Scarborough resident Martin Tripp, the only resident to speak on the budget at the March 20 meeting, said the school’s budget is already too high.

We got to get a grip on this,” Tripp said of $41.2 million school budget. “This is the biggest bill we got in town and it is too expensive.”

The Town Council has the power to change the bottom line, or final funding figure, but cannot make amendments to individual aspects of the budget.

That is accomplished by the Board of Education, which got its first look at the school budget two weeks ago.

Councilor Richard Sullivan said while he applauded the municipal budget, the $3.9 million, or 10.6 percent increase to the school budget, which makes up 66 percent of the town’s net budget, was something he could not accept.

Council Chairman Ron Ahlquist said he would like to see the school budget reworked.

“I personally appreciate the municipal budget and the work that went into it. Certainly on the school side — in my opinion — that is never going to hold up. It seems like there is a lot of work to be done there,” Ahlquist said, adding he was disappointed Superintendent George Entwistle and his leadership council didn’t come up with a more reasonable budget.

The Town Council and Board of Education will hold a joint public hearing on the municipal and school budgets Wednesday, April 10 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

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