2015-05-29 / Front Page

Budget ready for the voters

Citizens will decide school spending plan on June 9
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Town Council Vice Chairman Jean-Marie Caterina (right) shares her reaction to the municipal and school budgets as fellow councilors Shawn Babine and William Donovan listen. Babine, Donovan and Caterina were joined by Councilor Kate St. Clair and Chairman Jessica Holbrook in approving the budgets. The school budget will be voted on Tuesday, June 9. (Michael Kelley photo) Town Council Vice Chairman Jean-Marie Caterina (right) shares her reaction to the municipal and school budgets as fellow councilors Shawn Babine and William Donovan listen. Babine, Donovan and Caterina were joined by Councilor Kate St. Clair and Chairman Jessica Holbrook in approving the budgets. The school budget will be voted on Tuesday, June 9. (Michael Kelley photo) After months of deliberations, the Town Council has wrapped up its budget review process and now it is time for the public to weigh in. Voters will go to the polls Tuesday, June 9 to accept or reject the school budget.

Last week, the Town Council approved a $59.3 million town-wide budget, which includes $17.7 million in municipal spending and $39.1 million in educational spending and close to $2.5 million in county spending.

Ed Blaise and Peter Hayes were the only two on the seven-member council to vote against the budget.

Blaise wanted to see the school budget request reduced further. He made a motion to reduce the municipal budget by roughly $200,000 and the school budget by more than $600,000 by eliminating the cost-of-living increases for town and school employees. Town Council Chairman Jessica Holbrook said doing so would violate already agreedupon contracts and could open the town up to costly litigation. Councilors Shawn Babine, William Donovan, Kate St. Clair, Hayes and Vice Chairman Jean-Marie Caterina joined Holbrook in voting down the motion.

The idea behind his motion, Blaise said, was to keep the tax increase at a more reasonable level.

“We are driving people out of town,” he said of the increasing taxation on residents. “This town has got to somehow manage their respective businesses so it can be affordable to people. We can’t ask people to support huge increases.”

Voters will head to the polls Tuesday, June 9 to decide just how much spending they can afford and if they will accept or reject the school budget. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at town hall. Absentee ballots are also available through the Town Clerk’s office.

The budget would raise the tax rate by 5.78 percent, which would result in a $261 increase in taxes for the owner of a $300,000 home, the average home value in Scarborough.

The bulk of that tax rate increase — 7.76 percent — comes from a $2.9 million increase in spending from the Scarborough School Department. The municipal budget increased by close to $367,000.

Larry Hartwell, of Puritan Drive, felt the budget was too high. He urged councilors to not accept the school budget and its 8.2 percent spending increase. He opted for an increase closer to 3.5 percent.

“Please take an active role,” he said, “and not just push this out to voters.”

Nancy Erb, a resident of Pine Ledge Drive, didn’t quite see it that way. Erb said the reductions in programming over the last few years have been a “detriment to our students.”

She said she understands there are people in town who are struggling to pay their taxes, but also knows a lot of people who would gladly pay more to support Scarborough students.

“We all want appropriate spending. We all want proper measures taken, but I feel our students deserve better,” she said.

Balancing the need for additional funding with residents’ ability to absorb that cost is always a difficult thing, Caterina said.

“What you put in your budget says something about what you value in the community,” she said. “What we have in Scarborough are students. They are our future. They deserve the best we can give them. We also have seniors who have paid their dues and need help. The balancing act for us as councilors is to look at the entire community.

St. Clair said it is not just senior citizens who are struggling. There are a lot of young people in Scarborough who are finding it difficult to afford their taxes.

Babine, chairman of the Town Council’s Finance Committee, is optimistic about voters approving the school budget.

“I think this is a budget that can be supported by the voters and will pass,” he said at the Town Council meeting Wednesday, May 20.

It has been common in recent years for the school budget to fail at least once before voters found a budget that they could support. The school budget validation vote — a requirement of the state typically held in May — was pushed back by a month to allow for more time to deliberate the budget.

Holbrook said if voters do not adopt a school budget by July 1, the budget that was approved by the Town Council May 20 temporarily takes affect.

“The school budget would not stop there,” she said. “We would continue to hold meetings and go to referendum until such time as a budget passes.”

That scenario played out twice in York County in 2012, when both the Biddeford School Department and RSU 23, made up of Saco, Old Orchard Beach and Dayton, didn’t approve budgets until the general election in November.

What the council approved last week was a version of the budget that was presented by Town Manager Tom Hall and Superintendent George Entwistle. That budget included a .16 percent increase in municipal spending and 13.2 percent increase in school spending. It would have increased the tax rate by close to 8.5 percent, resulting in a $384 tax increase for the average homeowner.

The council easily passed the Finance Committee’s recommendations to alter the municipal budget by $289,306, in part by increasing excise and beach revenues; eliminating the pay-as-you-throw revenues; increasing state revenue sharing numbers and increasing a state reimbursement for a project on Pleasant Hill Road; as well as increasing ecomaine tipping fees; removing the townwide revaluation proposal and increasing the fire department budget by $50,000 to hire two new firefighters next April.

The council also unanimously approved a $158,575 reduction in the school department’s capital improvement request to provide laptops for every high school student. The original request was for $866,050, but that number was reduced by $117,575 by having parents cover some of the maintenance and accidental damage protection costs and by $41,000 because Information Services Director Jennifer Lim renegotiated the cost to purchase the 1,150 Lenovo Thinkpad Flips.

The school finance committee’s recommendation to reduce the budget by $1.1 million, food service budget by $37,434, adult education by $4,219, charter school costs by $269,000 and a town finance committee recommendation to reduce the school budget by another $90,000 was supported by five of the seven councilors. Blaise and Hayes voted in opposition.

Babine and Caterina were willing to fund the laptop program through the capital improvement budget now, but would potentially like to see it rolled into the operating budget in the future.

“I think it is appropriate as an initial outlay in the financial situation that is being presented,” Babine said.

“For the initial outlay it makes sense to put it under the capital budget, but I would encourage the finance committee to look at what should be capital in the future,” Caterina said.

Now that the councilors have made their final budget decisions on the municipal and school budgets, they urge voters to head to the polls June 9. Holbrook said she is looking forward to seeing what comes of the school validation referendum.

“That is a clear and precise message as to what the community wants as a whole,” she said.

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