2017-08-11 / Front Page

Council seeks to trim another 50K

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

The school budget is expected to be reduced another $50,000 to bring the tax request to $42.49 million. How the school board and school leaders do that won’t be known for another week, but that was a clear mandate set forth by the council at a special town council meeting last Wednesday.

“Elections do have impacts when they fail. We do need to make some sort of adjustment,” Councilor Chris Caiazzo said before suggesting $50,000, which was supported by four of his fellow six councilors. Councilors Will Rowan and Katy Foley voted against it.

Caiazzo said he felt $50,000 was a “reasonable” figure to reduce the school’s fiscal 2018 budget by.

“If it is too small it is not seen as impactful,” he said, adding a larger figure would cut into services the town and schools provide.

“It pains me to further cut and vote for further cuts to the school budget. Like (councilor Caiazzo) said elections have consequences. It would be irresponsible not to recognize voters turned down the school budget. I cannot go beyond $50,000. It is enough that it is a serious amount of money,” said councilor Bill Donovan.

Donovan said he feels the town is not far off from getting a budget passed “so that eliminates a big cut for me.” That being said, Donovan contemplated what an appropriate figure would be ruling out $10,000, $25,000 and $40,000, before settling on $50,000, roughly the cost of a teacher position.

Rowan said he wanted to add more money to the budget and because of that couldn’t support Caiazzo’s motion.

“I did not volunteer for this position to see an erosion of our schools. If we pass a budget that doesn’t allow the schools to offer the same services they did last year, it will erode our schools, however gradually,” Rowan said.

Councilor Peter Hayes said at the council’s Aug. 2 first reading of the revised budget after hearing from residents about the budget, the concern from many wasn’t the numbers, but rather the culture behind them. He said many residents he has heard from have asked for an efficiency analysis to make sure money is being spent wisely, as well as the possibility of a new budget process and more forward budgetary projections on the part of the town.

“We are going to have the same conversation next year, so we need to get the community to a healthier place,” Hayes said.

Voters will have nearly three weeks to decide whether they support this budget between the time the council finalizes the school budget figure on Aug. 16 and the school validation vote is held Sept. 5. Councilors decided to hold the vote on Sept. 5 after hearing from residents that date was the preferred option over Aug. 22 and Aug. 29, two other possibilities.

Town Council Chairman Shawn Babine said delaying the vote until Sept. 5 will give voters plenty of time (20 days) to educate themselves with the new spending proposal. He said in the past, the days between second reading and school budget vote has ranged from 13 days in 2015 to just four in 2008.

“None of the dates are terrific,” Town Manager Tom Hall said. “It is difficult to get people to come out this time of year. My biggest concern is we fail on the third vote. That will present us with some challenges.”

If the budget is not passed at the third validation vote, the town may have to borrow money in the interim until tax revenue comes. Tax bills are expected to be sent out Sept. 15 and are due Oct. 15.

If the town does not have a school budget in place by the time tax bills go out, the bills will be based on the last budget approved by the town council – the budget that voters rejected July 25. Any extra money collected once the payments are received will be placed in fund balance as surplus revenue.

“I struggled coming in here tonight,” Hayes said at the Aug. 2 special meeting. “It’s absolutely critical we get to yes this pass around.”

There was some talk and a push from Donovan to have the public hearing and second reading on Tuesday to, Caiazzo said, give voters an extra week to cast absentee ballots.

“I don’t think giving people an extra week is going to get more people in here to vote,” St. Clair said, adding if they want to vote, they will make it a priority no matter how much time they have.

Donovan’s motion, however, failed and the second reading will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 16.

Foley said she prefers separating them because people are used to that.

Town councilors are hoping the amount of public comment received at the public hearing Tuesday is not an indication of what voter turnout will be Sept. 5. Just three people came to the podium to share their thoughts on latest version of the budget.

Susan Hamill, of Bay Street urged the council to think about projecting expenses for more than just a year and reducing the town’s debt when they convene to talk about the fiscal 2019 budget, a process that starts this winter.

“We need to take a hard look on both sides – the school and the town – to make sure what we are doing is effective, efficient and really valuable,” she said.

She said she worries about the town’s starting point next year, since funds leftover from the Wentworth School construction project that the school used to offset the tax request dries up.

“What happens next year without that little bank account?” she asked.

She expects as a result the tax rate increase is going to be at least 4.5 percent next year, assuming no new programs are added or new positions created.

Art DiMauro, who supported the school budget at the first two validation votes, is ready to again.

“I think you have done a good job. I think you had it the first time around, but here we are, he told councilors after telling them he feels the town is using tax dollars “very well and in an efficient way.”

He said in all the debate that has transpired, he has not heard from those that oppose the budget regarding what they would do differently with the financial spending of the town and schools or “what the perfect number is.”

Despite the town hearing from many residents since the budget was unveiled in early April, DiMauro said one group that hasn’t been a part of the process is the students.

“The constituency that is impacted the most aren’t here. They are not old enough to vote,” he said.

“I do think, what would the kids say,” Di- Mauro added.

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

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