2014-04-11 / Front Page

Council: Budget doesn’t meet goal

Through first reading, proposed budget reflects nearly 7 percent tax rise
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

The Scarborough Town Council passed the proposed town budget at first reading last week, but that doesn’t mean councilors are happy with the spending plan. Of particular concern is the proposed $43.4 million school budget, a $3.9 million increase over the current budget.

That increase in spending, coupled with the 4.9 percent increase in the town’s gross budget, means the average taxpayer will see a $297, or 6.7 percent increase in their tax bill.

This doesn’t fulfill a goal the council established earlier this year to draft a budget that does not increase taxes in Scarborough.

“I will pass it tonight to move along through the process,” Town Councilor Ed Blaise said at the council’s first review of the budget Wednesday, April 2. “I’m a firm believer that, as a council, we set a goal to flat line the budget this year. That meant no increases in taxes and we need to work on that.”

The directive of no tax increases was shared with department heads for both the town and the school district.

“We made it very clear what was needed on the school side in their budget and they need to make it work,” said Town Councilor James Benedict, before reminding the public the council only has control over the bottom line, not the individual budget items.

Benedict’s counterpart, Kate St. Clair, who has children in the school system, was also not happy when she saw the proposed school budget figure.

“I was really disappointed when that came forward,” said St. Clair. “I was almost insulted by it because we were clear with what we were asking.”

“Clearly what was presented to us was not representative of the request we made of the school to bring in and rein their spending, but this is still early in the process for them,” said council Vice Chairman Jessica Holbrook.

The Board of Education spent several hours in a special workshop Saturday, April 5 revisiting the funding requests.

The Town Council was not the only group concerned with school spending.

Martin Tripp, a regular critic of the town’s spending, called the school’s proposed $4 million increase to its operating budget “outrageous.”

“I strongly suggest we take a militant look at this. I can’t see how people can absorb this,” he said.

It is a scenario that Pine Point Road resident Mo Erickson, a nurse at Maine Medical Center, understands all too well. Erickson said it would be difficult for her and her husband Jeff, a clam digger, to handle an additional increase to their tax bill.

“I feel like a pretty typical family in Scarborough,” she said. “I had a $300 increase on my taxes last year. This past year, I had another $300 increase and I almost had an additional $300 on my Scarborough sanitation bill. That’s a paycheck for me.”

Erickson said the spending has to stop.

“I don’t want more cops. I don’t want more firemen. I want more money. I want to keep my own money,” Erickson said, calling into question a staffing proposal that would mean hiring an additional patrolman and four firefighters/ emergency medical technicians.

Erickson said she would like the Town Council to really see if spending could be cut as a way to minimize tax bill increases.

“I would like to see you try to cut your spending and give it as much attention you do to the dog versus piping plover issue. I think most people are unaware of the spending that goes on in the town,” she said.

A public hearing on the municipal budget and school budget is scheduled for Wednesday, April 16 at 7 p.m. at town hall, where residents will have a chance to share their thoughts on fiscal year 2015 spending. The Town Council and Board of Education will hold a joint workshop Wednesday, April 30 at 7 p.m.

The school budget will be decided May 1 and the overall town budget on May 7. As in previous years, voters will have a chance to either pass or reject the school budget in the annual school validation vote, which this year takes place Tuesday, May 13 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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