2017-07-28 / Front Page

Down goes the budget – again

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Voters took to the polls on Tuesday to weigh in on the latest version of the school budget. After 13 hours of live voting and weeks of absentee voting, the school budget was defeated by 83 votes: 1,930 to 1,847. (Michael Kelley photo) Voters took to the polls on Tuesday to weigh in on the latest version of the school budget. After 13 hours of live voting and weeks of absentee voting, the school budget was defeated by 83 votes: 1,930 to 1,847. (Michael Kelley photo) Following the failed school budget vote on July 13, members of the town council and school board reduced the overall net town budget – the amount funded by taxpayers – by 307,000 to $62.7 million to present a budget they thought voters would support.

The proposal included a $42.2 million tax request from the school district, a 6.8 percent increase over the last approved budget.

Town and school leaders had hoped their work would result in public backing. That, however, was not the case and the budget was voted down Tuesday. It is expected to be reduced further between now and the third school referendum vote.

In total, 1,930 voters, or 51 percent, said no to the budget Tuesday at Scarborough Town Hall.

Kelly Laflin was among the 1,847 voters, or 49 percent, who voted in favor of the budget. Although she did not vote in the first vote on July 13, in which 57 percent of voters nixed the school budget, Laflin was adamant about voicing her support this go-around in order to give the schools the money they need to succeed.

“I feel strongly that we missed the boat the first time. This is our opportunity to allocate the funds where they should be.” Laflin said. “We moved here for the schools and I want to make sure the money is funneled where it should be and that’s education.”

Mary Frances Fest said it is the responsibility of the entire community, not just those with students in the schools, to support education.

“I feel that education is the most important thing we can offer to our students. It needs to be quality and it needs to be a sacrifice,” she said after exiting the polls Tuesday afternoon. “By sacrifice, I mean those of us that are older need to recognize somebody made sacrifices for us and now it is our turn.”

Despite the reduced figure, it was a budget many of the voters, including Peggy Cole Woods, still took exception to.

“I do still have a problem with the school budget,” she said. Her rejection of the school budget, she noted, does not mean she doesn’t support education. It is more a matter of being able to afford the annual tax increases.

“I am not against the schools, we have beautiful schools. That’s not the issue,” she said.

Rising tax bills was once again one of the reasons many voters rejected the budget. Several voters the Leader talked to who chose not to be identified voiced concerns that taxes were increasing at too fast a pace much like Brett Ouellette and Steve Malia did at the June 13 election.

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

“The expenditures in this town are out of control. Not just for the schools, but for the town overall,” Malia said at the time. “The tax increase is driving people out.”

Jim Rideout came to the polls to vote in favor of the spending plan just as he did six weeks ago during the first school validation vote and feared what a further reduced budget may mean for the schools and their students.

“I am a firm believer in education for our kids and offering them the best we can,” he said as he exited the polls Tuesday morning. “The last (budget) was a bit high, but this one we can live with. I feel it is the best we could do without hurting the kids.”

Reducing the school budget even more, he said, would begin to impact students.

Voters rejecting the budget mean the town continues a trend that Pam Jennings would just as soon see the town reverse.

“I appreciate all the hard work our school leaders and town did to make this a fair budget for all. It’s frustrating every year we have to repeat this process to get a budget passed,” she said.

It will take at least another attempt to pass a school budget and is possible the school year may begin without a budget in place. Since a school budget for the 2017-2018 school year was not approved by July 1, the start of this fiscal year, the spending plan for the 2016-2017 year remains in effect until a new budget is approved.

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

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