2017-05-12 / Front Page

Budget talks move toward final adoption

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

After weeks of reviewing the municipal and school budget, last week, members of the town council finance committee made their final recommendations on the fiscal 2018 town budget, which will now go before the full council for final adoption May 17.

The $63 million budget is a $2.9 million, or 4.84 percent increase over the current fiscal budget. Since the initial presentation of the budget by Town Manager Tom Hall and Superintendent Julie Kukenberger, the town budget has been reduced more than $1.8 million through a series of increased revenue projections and refinement of expenditures.

The latest round of refinements called for a $250,000 reduction – $165,000 from the school budget and $85,000 from the municipal budget – to get the mid-range tax increase to just under a 3.5 percent increase, the goal of the council. With an increase of $42,000 in debt in the budget from fiscal 2017 bonds, the amount the town needed to cut spending/increase revenue was $127,000.

While the refinements on the school side have yet to be finalized – that was expected to happen this week – town council finance committee members recommended a series of ways for the town to meet its share of the reduction, again through a combination of increasing revenue projections and cutting expenditures. The committee increased revenue projections by $71,000, which include $50,000 in increased rescue revenue projections and an anticipated $8,000 in new revenue from free one-hour parking meters at Higgins Beach.

The parking meters were installed along a stretch of Bayview Avenue in 2016, but were free last summer. Before the town can charge the estimated $1 an hour at each of the 13 spaces, the town’s fee schedule and parking ordinance will have to be amended. In terms of expenditure cuts, the committee recommended not staffing the ice rink warming hut during the winter season (a $6,300 savings); reducing police patrols at Higgins Beach by 500 hours ($8,336), removing contracted street sweeping ($23,000), reducing townwide paving ($12,645) and dialing extra weekly beach cleanings to get rid of red tide seaweed at Pine Point Beach back to every other Wednesday in July and August ($6,119). Weekly cleanings on Fridays will still occur at Pine Point.

“These are things – while they will be missed – aren’t critical to our operations. They are extra services we’ve chose to provide over the years,” said Hall, who provided the committee with the list of potential reductions and revenue adjustments.

Hall said even with the reduced hours, Higgins Beach will still have enhanced police coverage this summer. Police Chief Robbie Moulton said police have a presence at Pine Point Beach from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on 91 days from Memorial Day to Labor Day, whereas police are patrolling Higgins Beach from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on 138 days from May to September. Moulton said the reduction in hours at Higgins Beach could mean reducing the number of hours of coverage a day or the number of days the beach is patrolled.

Originally the committee was looking at a 1,000- hour reduction of beach coverage at Higgins Beach, but committee member Chris Caiazzo brought up the idea of charging for parking so the town would have additional revenue and not have to reduce police coverage so significantly.

“Is it worth doing something like that to generate additional revenue or does it become more of an enforcement issue,” he said.

Moulton said if the town cuts back the hours of beach enforcement and imposes a parking fee for the 13 metered spaces, police won’t be able to keep up with parking enforcement there.

“I am happy to do it how you want, but I don’t want to create unrealistic expectations,” he said.

Hall said it was not his intent to target Higgins Beach or Pine Point Beach when generating a list of things that could be reduced to meet the town council goal of getting the tax rate increase to at, or below 3.5 percent and said he knew the reduction of police coverage and beach cleanup wouldn’t be “well received” by beach residents.

“I am not picking on the beach communities. These are add-ons,” he said. The additional beach cleanups at Pine Point Beach began last summer after residents complained a pile up of red algae was causing foul odors on, and around, the beach.

The committee had also bandied about removing a $22,000 capital improvement request for traffic safety cameras at the Dunstan and Oak Hill intersections and $10,000 capital equipment request for a public facing version of SeeClickFix, software in which residents can report issues in town such as potholes, dark streetlights, or animals on the loose.

Hall pushed for keeping the SeeClickFix, which the public works department also uses for vehicle maintenance scheduling.

“I really think that is going to serve our residents very well,” he said.

Committee member Shawn Babine also talked about finding ways to get more revenue from the community services department to offset the amount of taxpayer support to a budget that, he said, should be user funded.

The budget has been moving in that direction over the years going from being 66 percent supported by fees in 2000 to 80.8 percent in 2008 to a high of 86.8 percent in 2012. In recent years, the number has been between 75 percent to 81 percent.

He urged the Community Services Department to look at ways to increase revenue outside of child care, which, like beach revenue, more than covers its cost.

New Community Services Director Todd Souza said his department will be looking at the fee structure for its programming and facility use, as well as how trash collection is done for the town’s 166 trash barrels throughout town.

“I welcome the challenge. I am up for it” said Souza, who started in the position April 24 after working as recreation director in Wiscasset for more than a dozen years. “We are ready to dig in and look at some things.”

Ben Howard suggested Souza, or town councilors, look into increasing the $10 price of parking for the day at Higgins Beach, Pine Point Beach or Ferry Beach. The season’s pass for residents has gone up in recent years, but the day rate has remained constant, he said.

Old Orchard Beach charges $20 a day or $2 an hour to park in its municipal lots near the beach.

“I think that is something you guys should look at,” Howard said.

The budget, as it stands now, would mean an additional $135 to $198 to the tax bill of the average homeowner in town. The tax impact of the budget when it was initially presented would have ranged from $276 to $342 for that same homeowner.

Several people at the town council public hearing May 3, including Hillory Durgin, Sarah Mullen, Stacey Neumann and Megan Fallon, implored the town to keep school funding where it is.

“I truly believe the children are our future and we need to invest in them,” Fallon said.

Neumann said town and staff leaders have worked hard on the budget and it is ready for voters.

“I ask you to put it out to voters at this stage. They are the ones that can make an informed decision with all the information out there,” she said.

Wally Fengler, however, was more critical of the spending plan, pointing out his taxes have increased 30 percent over the last five years, causing him to continue working at 75 years old to afford that additional cost.

Drew Stevens told councilors he wanted to see more money in the school budget. As a Realtor, he hears from a lot of people considering a move to Scarborough and the number one reason for doing so, he said, is because of the school system.

“There is no doubt we want to keep our taxes as low as possible, but there is also no doubt we need to provide students the best education we can,” he said. “It helps everybody in town. Property values go up because we have good schools.”

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarbroughleader.com

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