2015-06-12 / Front Page

Budget: Shot down in flames

Back to the drawing board for school and town officials
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Town and school leaders altered their approach in coming up with a school budget, by having a community wide question and answer session in May and holding more joint meetings between the Town Council and Board of Education finance committees.

The result, however, was the same last year as voters rejected a $39.1 million net school budget 1,719 to 1,408 votes at the validation vote Tuesday at town hall. It was the third straight year it was rejected at the initial referendum.

The turnout — 3,127 votes, including more than 900 by absentee ballot — was the highest for a validation vote in recent years and more than 100 more than in June 2014, when voters passed the existing school budget on the second try.

As expected, the school budget was a hotly debated issue as voters headed to the polls Tuesday.

The budget that was voted down was a $2.9 million, or 8.1 percent increase over what was supported through taxes this year.

That budget, coupled with the $17.7 million net municipal budget and $2.5 million county assessment, would have resulted in a tax bill of $4,791 for the owner of a $300,000 home, a $261 increase over this year.

Gerri McLean was one of the 1,761, or 56 percent of voters, who though the budget was too high. McLean said she was disappointed the Town Council did not pass along to the voters a more reasonable budget when they approved the school spending plan May 20.

“The budget is extremely way out of reach. The Town Council, I am so disappointed in them. I thought we had elected people that would keep things in control,” she said. “Some towns haven’t increased (tax bills) at all because they know the reality of it. We are out of control.”

Elizabeth Carmody, who voted against the budget, said although she understands “we need to meet the needs of our kids,” the spending was just something she could not accept.

“I feel there is a whole lot more work that can be done,” said Carmody, who spent 38 years in education. “I feel the Town Council didn’t respect the community’s expectation.”

Sharon Libby said she wished town officials would consider senior citizens and how they are impacted by tax increases more in their budget deliberations.

Karen Lothrop is one of those senior citizens. She said she wants to see taxes go down in Scarborough to a rate she can better afford,

“I don’t know how much longer I can stay here,” said Lothrop, who voted against the budget. “(Town leaders) don’t know how to hold a budget. They don’t know how to say no.”

In fact, the severity of the tax increase compelled Eugene Pelzar to go to the polls and reject the budget.

“A lot of times I don’t vote in matters that are just for the town — local stuff — but the sizeable increase in real estate taxes just keep going up and drive senior citizens like myself out of town,” he said.

While many in town, including Pelzar, took Tuesday’s vote as an opportunity to voice their concerns with increasing taxes and spending, the validation vote — a requirement of the state — also brought out residents who supported more funding for education in Scarborough.

Brian Pettingill, who will have students at Wentworth School, Scarborough Middle School and Scarborough High School, was among the 619 voters (20 percent) who thought the budget was too low.

“I am a big proponent of a higher school budget, so I voted yes, but I still think it is too low,” he said after exiting the polls.

“I’ve watch the budget get cut over the last few years and with three kids in the school system, I’ve see the impact of that,” he added.

Heather Cuzzi said she voted for the budget, although it was too low, because she wants to make sure the schools continue to offer the best possible education for children. Her daughter will be starting kindergarten at Eight Corners Primary School in September.

“We moved here because of the strength of the schools and I want to make sure that continues. It’s important to vote and its important to make sure the school budget is well funded,” Cuzzi said.

Alan Pelletier, one of the 710 voters (23 percent) who thought the budget was acceptable, said he supported the budget for his grandchildren.

“I have grandchildren in the schools, so it is easy for me to vote for the school budget,” he said.

A revised budget will be worked on in the coming days before going out to voters again. If a budget is not adopted by the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1, the budget that voters weighed in on Tuesday, which was approved by the Town Council May 20, will temporarily take effect until a new budget is passed by voters.

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