2017-07-21 / Letters

Writers weigh in on budget vote

To the editor:

Scarborough has a great school system. We also are fortunate to have Julie Kukenberger as the new superintendent. She has already demonstrated outstanding leadership and a willingness to bring the schools and the larger community together.

Part of that coming together of schools and community is a recognition that not all Scarborough residents can afford the steadily increasing tax burden. The school budget that we are voting on July 25 contains a 6.8 percent increase in taxes for the schools. It also results in a 3 percent overall tax rate increase.

While the overall increase may not seem burdensome to some, it can present a major financial challenge for many residents and not just seniors.

The fundamental budget issue is that school expenses continue to grow while state funding has declined and enrollment is flat or down.

Voting no on the school budget is not an anti-school vote. It simply lets the town council know that we need a school budget that works for the entire community, not just its wealthier members.

Please vote no on the second school budget on July 25.

Brian Kanode

To the editor:

It appears that Kelly Murphy and the educational board are slow learners. Murphy said it is “appalling and shameful” the budget was rejected again.

We as taxpayers are “appalled” that Murphy and the board once again presented the taxpayers with an unreasonable school budget increase.

Murphy states no other town defeats their school budget. There may be a reason for this, other school boards do not present a 7.4 percent school budget increase to their taxpayers.

Murphy, a solution to your problem is to pass a school budget not to exceed 3 percent each year unless there is a major change in the inflation rate. This would stop wasting taxpayers’ time and energy defeating unreasonable tax increases.

If you and the superintendent are not capable of this proposal then it may be time for a clean sweep of the school board and superintendent’s office.

Robert Lynch

To the editor:

Our town management was surprised by the magnitude of the June 13 no vote on the school budget. The vote was simply the natural outcome of trends transforming Scarborough over the last few years. This is a time which demands new thinking and strong leadership, yet public officials have engaged in name calling, shaming and blaming those who voted no as being against our schools, children’s futures and the mission of education itself. These are false and unfair claims.

There are no cuts in the revised school budget, only increases: Increases in taxpayer funding of the schools of 6.8 percent and increases in total school spending of 2.9 percent. Scarborough taxpayers have supported school spending increases of $12 million since 2011, going well above state revenue sharing cuts, in spite of dropping enrollments.

The vote of no against the budget was a vote for the diverse community that Scarborough has become. The path forward requires budget makers to understand and address underlying demographic issues we face.

Scarborough is older and more diverse economically than ever before. Median age is increasing, and only 35 percent of the population is in their 20s, 30s, or 40s. Median household income is lower now ($78,899) than it was in 2000 ($79,177), while mean household income is higher ($103,113 compared to $93,102).

We have a population segment with very low and stagnant incomes and another block with high and increasing incomes.

Scarborough’s mil rate has increased 39 percent in 10 years, while inflation was less than 20 percent. Property taxes are the most regressive and unfair tax levied. They bear no relationship to ability to pay and hit lower income households the hardest. Rising property taxes make housing affordability worse and threaten to drive families and seniors out of Scarborough.

How did an annual increase of 3 percent become the goal? With low inflation, we should have similar annual increases in taxes. Yet year after year, taxes have increased far faster than inflation.

Great roads, municipal departments with the latest equipment – do not draw people to move to a town and motivate them to spend their lives there.

Great schools, a low mil rate and beautiful natural resources do. Informed town officials who accept and include all constituents in setting policy can help us achieve these goals.

Susan Hamill

To the editor:

We are writing to you regarding the upcoming vote for the Scarborough school budget. Being parents of two young children starting school, the public school system is something that we are very passionate about.

Prior to moving here to start a family, Scarborough’s well-respected public school system was one of the many reasons to move to such a beautiful town. This was something that Scarborough has been keeping up with as far as we can remember. It is sad to think that one of the fastest growing towns in Maine cannot find ways to budget appropriately for the children being brought up here. Every day, we feel like we see more and more houses and businesses going up all around us, yet there are constant, yearly battles about funding education in this town.

As laypeople without the full knowledge of the town budget, we keep asking ourselves where all of this new revenue is going from the expanding population within Scarborough. It seems that we should be able to support this budget without increasing taxes, but it is our understanding that the state has withdrawn a significant amount of aid to Scarborough.

We acknowledge that since moving back here six years ago, our collective property tax increases have not been insignificant. It is difficult for our family to keep coming up with new ways to budget for this every year. Do we really want to pay more taxes when living expenses seem to be rising constantly?

Many peoples’ initial instinct may be to say, ‘no,’ but the reality is that we as a town need to find ways to support our school system. These are the schools that are going to be educating our children and continuing to make our beautiful town an attractive place to live for young families (not just retirees and tourists).

As a taxpayer, I want to have confidence in the services that are provided by the town. If we do not support our school budget, we may start down a path where Scarborough is known as the town that is pretty good, but the schools aren’t that great. Cutting the school budget will diminish the quality of the education we provide for our children and diminish peoples’ desire to live here. Scarborough is a wonderful town to live in and we want it to continue to be this way for many years to come.

The DeBiasio Family

To the editor:

In last week’s issue of the Leader, several letters to the editor in favor of the school budget referred to budget cuts and “continued cutting of school services.” These statements give the impression that the schools’ operating expenses (salaries, benefits, utilities, etc.) have been reduced from year to year. The way the current school budget process works, it is easy to believe that.

However, it is important for all voters to understand exactly what has happened to school operating expenses in the recent past. They have not been cut by any realistic definition of that word. Quite the opposite.

In fiscal 2013, operating expenses for the schools were budgeted at about $37.2 million. By fiscal 2017, they were about $45.9 million. That’s an increase of $8.7 million, or about 23 percent. In four of those five years, the expense growth rate was more than 5 percent per year.

During that same period, school enrollment (as of Oct. 1 during the fiscal year) declined from 3,225 in fiscal 2013 to 2,970 in fiscal 2017 – a decline of nearly 8 percent.

When discussing the school budget each year, we need to recognize the gaming element incorporated into the process – start high and complain loudly at each downward adjustment toward a more reasonable amount. But it is important not to confuse the results of the annual ritual of budget gaming with the actual year-to-year changes in the school operating expense budget.

School operating expenses increased steadily from fiscal 2013 to fiscal 2017, as enrollment and state education funding declined. While the proposed fiscal 2018 school operating expense budget increase is now less than 3 percent – but still an increase of more than $1.3 million – the lack of expense control in the past has left us with a budget that still calls for a 6.8 percent increase in taxes for the schools.

A no vote on July 25 tells the council that the school operating expense budget needs to be reduced further and an overall tax rate increase of 3 percent is still too high.

John Frazier

To the editor:

I support the proposed school budget, and urge Scarborough residents to vote yes on July 25 because, among many other things, the proposed tax rate increase and the anticipated new tax rate are very reasonable compared to surrounding towns.

The town has prepared a document, given out at a town council meeting and available on the town budget website, comparing Scarborough’s anticipated tax rate increase (2.99 percent) and anticipated new tax/mil rate ($16.40) to those in Old Orchard Beach, Yarmouth, Gorham, Cape Elizabeth, South Portland, Cumberland, Westbrook, Saco, Biddeford, Portland and Windham.

Scarborough’s anticipated mil rate is less than all but two of those towns and almost $2 less than the average of $18.35. Similarly, our anticipated tax rate increase of 2.99 percent is significantly less than the average of 3.54 percent.

We all live in a fantastic community with top-rate services and great schools, while simultaneously enjoying the benefit of a remarkably lower tax rate and lower tax rate increase than most surrounding towns. Many people move to and continue to live in Scarborough exactly because of this balance between taxes and services. Supporting this budget means a continuation of the great value Scarborough provides for all of its residents. Vote yes.

Sarah Mullen

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