2014-05-16 / In the News

State, local income blunts budget increase

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Town Councilor Bill Donovan, second from left, shares his thoughts about the municipal budget last week. The council approved the $29.3 million budget, which will only increase taxes slightly. (Michael Kelley photo) Town Councilor Bill Donovan, second from left, shares his thoughts about the municipal budget last week. The council approved the $29.3 million budget, which will only increase taxes slightly. (Michael Kelley photo) Fiscal responsibility by town department heads and a thorough review of the municipal budget by Finance Committee members has resulted in a municipal spending plan that barely makes an impact to the tax rate.

Last week, Town Councilors adopted a $29.5 million municipal budget, $17.3 of which will be funded through tax dollars.

The overall spending plan is a $1.1 million – or 4 percent increase – over this year spending, but an increase in revenue from state and local sources such as excise tax, means taxpayers will only be asked to foot an additional $165,000. This would result in an additional $9 to the average annual tax bill.

The Town Council made it clear to department heads earlier this year that they wanted an overall town budget that was as flat as possible. Getting to this point was no easy task, and meant a lot of tough choices on funding requests – especially the 13 new positions that were proposed.

The proposed positions included an adult services librarian, three new dispatchers at the Scarborough Public Safety Center, four firefighters, a maintenance worker/ plow operator to be shared between Community Services and Public Works departments, a patrol officer, a school resource officer at Wentworth School, a systems administrator/field technician for the information technology department and vehicle mechanic for the Public Works Department.

To help save money and lessen the burden on taxpayers, the Town Council opted to not fund requests for an adult services librarian, patrol officer and student resource officer and reduce the impact in fiscal year 2015 by delaying the start date for the dispatchers and vehicle mechanic to Feb. 1.

The maintenance worker/plow operator and systems administrator/field technician position requests were not altered.

Jessica Holbrook, who serves as the Council’s vice chairman and the Finance Committee’s chairman said given the circumstances, the changes seemed “reasonable.”

Bill Donovan, a member of the Finance Committee, said it was hard to reject the funding requests when the need for the positions were so well presented.

“We rejected and excluded a number of positions that all three of us thought were well presented, including the firefighters, but we held the line,” Donovan said at the May 7 meeting.

Ed Blaise, who also serves on the committee, said he, Donovan and Holbrook had the Town Council goal in mind as they met with department heads on Tuesday mornings in April.

“We kept in front of us the goal of a flat increase or zero percent increase to the tax rate if at all possible. I think this comes pretty close to that,” he said.

Council Chairman Richard Sullivan begrudgingly accepted the municipal budget, although it lacked funding for the firefighting positions.

“I hate seeing more on the municipal side being cut to the bone like this,” said Sullivan, who, as a firefighter in Portland, knows how hard it is to recruit volunteer firefighters to respond to emergencies, especially at night.

For years, the number of volunteers has dwindled as calls for service around town have increased.

Many of the people who spoke at the meeting were concerned with the spending on the school side, although some, including Mo Erickson, called into question municipal spending.

Her concern was the funding allotted to several of the proposed capital improvement projects, including $36,000 over the next five years to replace the police department’s 37 tasers; $32,000 to replace kitchen cabinets at two fire stations and furniture at all six; $100,000 to replace 110 aging municipal laptops, $200,000 for an office expansion project at the library and spending $295,000 in fiscal year 2017 and $225,000 in fiscal year 2019 for street sweepers. Also of concern was increasing the resident beach passes from $35 to $40.

“After all this spending, after raising our taxes, you have the audacity to raise the cost of beach passes,” she said. “Throw Scarborough residents a bone and let us use our own beaches for free.”

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