2017-07-14 / Front Page

Budget alterations are made

Next vote is scheduled for Tuesday, July 25
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

It wouldn’t feel like summer in Scarborough without town leaders and school officials working to find a school budget figure that voters can support at the polls.

The town council last week, approved an amended budget that brought the net town budget to $62.7 million, which would result in a 2.99 percent tax rate increase. To get it to that level, the town opted to further reduce the budget by $307,000, including $71,000 from the town coffers and $236,000 from the school budget.

The cut on the municipal side would come from adjusting salary and benefit lines for three open, or recently vacant positions: planning director, human resources director and deputy public works director and eliminating a $20,000 carpet replacement project at town hall.

“My original position was we not dip into the municipal budget at all, but as long as we were, my preference would have been to go into some areas where I think we misstepped, things we could have done differently, but I also appreciate the work (Town Manager Tom Hall) did on this,” said councilor Katy Foley. “These are cost savings we would have realized anyway, so it doesn’t really change, at least what we are able to offer, for the most part, in services for the community.”

Councilor Peter Hayes said he was uncomfortable reopening the municipal budget at the first reading June 21 without a “better understanding of what types of items we were talking about” cutting, but approved at second reading to, like his fellow councilors, follow Hall’s recommendation.

“These seems to be things that are really more of timing issues and won’t impact the delivery of any essential services of the town,” he said.

Vice Chairman Kate St. Clair voted to make the reductions, but was “very concerned about what happens if we don’t pass again.”

“I don’t want to see another round of this happening,” she said.

The municipal cuts, coupled, with the cuts from the school department – which included delaying educational investments and reducing other expenditures – will create a budget with an anticipated 16.40 tax rate, a 2.99 percent tax rate increase and would mean an additional $111 to $174 in taxes for the average homeowner.

The actual need from taxpayers, and therefor the tax rate, is expected to be less. Now that the new state budget has been passed, Scarborough is expected to receive additional general purpose aid from the state. There is expected to be an additional $48 million available in fiscal year 2018 (the 2017-2018 school year) and $114 million the following year, although how much trickles down to Scarborough is not yet known.

In a subsequent meeting at the board of education held after the town council meeting, school board chairman Kelly Murphy called the extra money a “farce” because the school department is not allowed to use that money for education programming. It is mandated to be used for property tax relief or be put in a reserve fund for the schools. In keeping with the requirement, the town council decided to allocate half of what is received to tax relief for this budget year and put the rest into the school’s capital reserve fund. State law dictates that half of the extra money schools receive this year be used to lower property taxes.

Because of this extra school funding for next school year and less of a need to rely on taxpayer funding, councilor Will Rowan urged his fellow councilors to not reduce the town budget at all and put the same school budget proposal that was rejected back out to voters. He said it would be inappropriate to cut from the town and school budgets when Scarborough is expecting more money from the state.

“Now that we know the legislature has acted and there is significant revenue coming for the current budget cycle, which we didn’t know during the first vote and we didn’t know during our first reading. We know that now. We don’t know the number, but we know it is happening,” he said. “Therefore, it is inappropriate to be cutting the education budget, or town budget for that matter when we have more revenue coming.”

While his fellow councilors supported it in theory, only St. Clair voted in support of Rowan’s idea.

“The vote was taken and the vote has to be honored,” councilor Bill Donovan said. “I do not want to put us in a position where we risk having a second referendum not adopted. By not having any cuts from the school board to the school budget, we run that risk.”

“By not making any adjustments at all to the budget, while I would support that 100 percent personally, I think it is not necessarily going to help us garner favor with the public and get this vote passed and get this budget passed like we need to,” councilor Chris Caiazzo said.

Hayes said there are “too many unknowns” regarding how much funding will be received, for him to go along with Rowan, who said by the time the voters go to the poll the figure from the state will be known. The state has said it would have the extra state aid allocation figures to communities by July 21. Rowan projects the number could be as high as $1.2 million dollars.

St. Clair said she gave Rowan credit for “sticking his neck out there” and coming up with the amendment.

“It’s painful for me not to see this – your motion – pass because I believe in it,” she said.

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

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