2017-06-16 / Front Page

Voters reject school budget

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Voters followed the trend Tuesday of shooting down the budget when they went to the polls. Historically, over the years, it has taken two, sometimes three tries before voters are presented a school budget that funds education while keeping taxes low for residents, especially those on fixed incomes. The budget, however, passed on the first try last year.

The budget process began late last year when town and school department heads began coming up with their budgets. Town Manager Tom Hall and School Superintendent Julie Kukenberger presented their respective budgets April 5 and from there the spending plans were vetted through the town and school finance committees before the school budget was passed by the school board April 27 and the overall townwide budget was passed by the town council May 17.

The budget voters weighed in on Tuesday was $$860,772 less than the budget that was presented by Kukenberger in early April, but $2.7 million more than the 2016- 2017 school year budget.

Brent Ouellette was one of the 57 percent of voters who rejected the nearly $47.4 million budget, approximately $42.5 million of which will be funded through taxpayers.

“We’ve been living here 13 years. When we moved here taxes were $2,300 and now they are over $5,000,” Ouellette said. “It is just out of control.”

Ouellette said he is going to start going to town council and school board meetings to better keep track of what is happening in town.

“I think they should stick to the basics and get the most we can out of the state’s contribution. Sooner or later they are going to have to start looking at cuts,” Ouellette said of the school district.

When coupled with the municipal budget ($18.2 million), capital spending appropriations ($250,000), the assessment to Cumberland County ($2.7 million) and other annual costs, the overall townwide net budget of $63 million was expected to raise the tax rate between 2.8 percent to 4.1 percent, with a target of a 3.49 percent tax rate increase. This would have meant a tax bill of $4,911 to $4,974 for the owner of a $300,000 home, a $135 to $198 increase to the current bill. The tax increase for that homeowner was projected to be as high as $342 when the initial budget was first presented April 5.

Steve Malia, no fan of the budget, said he is looking to move out of town for a more favorable tax situation.

“It’s way too high again,” Malia said of the school budget after voting it down at the polls. “The expenditures in this town are out of control. Not just for the schools, but for the town overall.”

“The tax increase is driving people out. I can’t wait to sell my house and find someplace else,” he continued adding he was sick of spending $500 a month just in taxes alone.

While Malia is being driven out of Scarborough because of the increasing taxes, Marie Hyfield, who was among the 43 percent of voters who voted in favor of the budget June 13, said she was attracted to the community because of its schools.

“I have two students, one entering third-grade at Wentworth and one going into fifth-grade, so of course I support the school budget,” she said after exiting the polls late Tuesday afternoon. “I moved to Scarborough in January because of the school system. I am a teacher in Westbrook so for school budgets I am usually thumbs up because I know how much teachers have to pay out of their own pockets.”

The school budget not passing wasn’t the news that Scott Chase, an avid supporter of the schools and other youth opportunities such as the Boy Scouts of America program, was hoping to hear.

Chase told the Leader he was happy to vote for the budget because he is a “strong believer in providing for kids.”

“I am a product of the Scarborough school system from way, way back. It’s been a good school system and it is important to maintain that,” said Chase, who has children heading into 10th and 12th grade next school year.

While the school budget failed to pass, the same couldn’t be said about the local referendum question. By a 2,971 to 1,160 tally, voters gave the town the go ahead to borrow $687,482 to replace the 30-year old underground fueling station on Manson Libby Road that the Maine Department of Environmental Protection is requiring the town to remove by next year. The project was approved by the town council last year, but needed town approval to be funded via a bond. Had the question failed, the money would have had to come out of town reserves. According to Public Works Director Mike Shaw, the funding will pay for both a new fuel island, as well as the removal of the existing fuel tanks. No additional money will be needed for site remediation.

“The new fuel island will include above ground tanks with a minimum life expectancy of 30 years and will provide all the gasoline, diesel, and propane used by all town and school vehicles,” Shaw wrote in an online letter to residents in advance of the vote.

Shaw notes moving the fuel facility to the public works facility at 20 Washington Avenue first came up 10 years ago when the department was working on its Public Works Master Plan and in 2015, the department began looking into options for fueling town and school vehicles.

“We looked at the town’s actual costs for fuel from January 2000 through June 2015 versus the cost we would have paid without our fuel island and discovered in those 15 years, we saved over $1.5 million,” Shaw said.

Shaw expects a $3 million savings over the 30-year lifespan of the new fueling facility.

“I believe that owning and operating our own fueling station is most cost effective solution to meet the town’s needs and that financing this investment through a bond is the most prudent approach,” Shaw said.

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