2017-06-30 / Front Page

Public weighs in on latest draft of budget

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

A series of savings from vacant positions may be what it takes to shave $71,000 out of the municipal budget in preparation for the next school budget validation vote on Tuesday, July 25.

Last week in a workshop session, Town Manager Tom Hall recommended readjusting the salary and benefits line for three vacant, or soon to be vacant, positions: planning director, human resource director and deputy public works director. Hall said while searching for the $71,000 – the town’s share of the targeted $307,000 budget reduction – he didn’t want to go back to department heads to find the savings because he had already done that twice this budget season.

“I didn’t relish this opportunity, but I understand the big picture and the approach,” he said at the July 28 workshop that preceded a public hearing on the budget.

To get the requisite budget reduction, Hall is also recommending deferring a capital improvement project of replacing carpets on the first floor of town hall, a $20,000 cost.

“The carpet in that area is as old as the building and is showing its age,” he said.

Hall said the savings from the vacant position is not from delaying hiring, but rather due to the need to spend salary and benefit costs for unfilled positions. Hall did not opt to revisit revenue projections, such as anticipated excise tax, which the town has done before to less the amount of money needed from taxpayers. He said although excise tax collection continues to “outperform,” he decided to forgo increasing the projection in favor of applying any extra revenue to the fund balance to be used to lower taxes in fiscal year 2019.

Although the council did not vote on Hall’s recommendations, councilors seemed comfortable with Hall’s approach.

“They are well thought out. The rationale makes sense to me,” Councilor Chris Caiazzo said.

Councilor Katy Foley may make an amendment to add $6,000 back into the budget to continue an extra weekly beach cleaning at Pine Point Beach that is aimed at removing the invasive red algae, which envelops the beach and begins to stink as it rots. Last summer, the cleaning was done weekly, but this spring to reduce the budget before the first school budget referendum, the council reduced the schedule to twice a month.

“If we are going to go back into the municipal budget, is there a way (to add the funding back in),” Foley said.

Councilor Bill Donovan supported the idea, but wouldn’t support getting back into the “nitty gritty” of the budget to find reductions.

“It’s crazy we wouldn’t try to find that money, because we know it is needed,” he said of the beach cleaning.

Superintendent Julie Kukenberger has not officially made any recommendations to reduce the school budget by the targeted $236,000 because the board of education has not met since the school budget was rejected June 13. The board plans to meet to discuss the necessary cuts after the town council’s second reading and adoption of the new town budget, which is set for Wednesday, July 5 at 6 p.m.

She said she is certain the board will be able to meet the $236,000 cut.

“We feel confident it will have a minimal impact for our students,” she told councilors.

Councilor Peter Hayes said although next year’s budget has not been finalized, or approved by voters, he would like the finance committee, which he chairs, to begin looking into fiscal year 2019 “to be better prepared for some of the decisions we will have to make” then.

 

Public hearing

Susan Hamill, a resident of Bay Street, said she would like the town to project its budget out more than just one year and revisit how it bonds projects and budget items in an effort to reduce the amount of debt the town has.

“It’s got to happen,” she said of reducing the town’s debt, adding she would like to see the town stop bonding items “other communities don’t.”

She would also like a consultant hired to look at the spending of the town, starting with the school department, to find efficiencies and by extension, cost savings.

“The annual battle of the budget is a waste of time, not only for staff and the schools, but the public, too,” she said.

Jennifer Jubulis, of Haystack Circle, said she is “worried about the direction Scarborough is headed with the divisiveness” that comes with the annual budget season.

She said she was happy with the education her daughter received this past school year as a kindergartener at Pleasant Hill Primary School, but with the annual defeats of the school budget she is starting to question her decision to move to town for the school system.

William Bly, of Ottawa Woods Road, said he is “distraught we are back here again,” referencing the need for a second school budget validation vote. Twice he has pulled his son, who is going into seventh-grade, out of Scarborough schools in favor of private education, only to realize public education is the best place for him.

“If we are not going to fund the schools and pay the teachers, what is education going to look like,” he said.

For Windsor Pine resident Ben Howard, however, spending more money on education is not necessarily the best way to improve education.

“I don’t think them problem is we aren’t spending enough on our students. I think other routes need to be investigated,” he said.

Sarah Mullen, of Gunstock Road and Hillory Durgin, of Sequoia Lane, want to see reductions to the school budget kept to a minimum.

“I feel cutting too much will set us back irreparably,” Durgin said.

Paula O’Brien, of Pond View Drive, is a product of the Scarborough school system as are her three children. She, however, is concerned about how tax increases impact those in town, such as senior citizens or residents who are having trouble keeping up with bills.

“Someone needs to look out for them,” O’Brien said.

Nancy Erb, of Pine Ledge Drive, said a strong school system is important to her family, including her children, a rising eighth-grader and rising junior. The June 13 defeat of the school budget, she said, made her 16-year-old question whether to buy a home and raise a family in Scarborough.

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