2017-11-24 / Community News

Council says no to ad hoc budget support

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

School and town officials will come together over the next few months to create a draft of the fiscal year 2019 budget, which will be presented by Town Manager Tom Hall and School Superintendent Julie Kukenberger the first week of April, but won’t have an ad hoc resident committee to help them get to that point.

Last week, the town council officially nixed the formation of an ad hoc budget support committee. The idea was first brought up by councilor Katy Foley in August as a way to tweak the process in hopes of better informing the public and reducing the contention that comes with annual budget conversations/

“It’s obviously not the will of the council and that’s OK. I tried to do something different,” Foley said just before she withdrew the motion to form the committee, sensing it did not have enough support to pass.

Foley said she wanted to form the committee as a way of better informing the public about the school and town budgets in a hope of the school budget passing on the first try.

Scarborough has had a history of needing two, sometimes three, votes on the school budget before it is a spending plan voters can support.

“We have a history of not passing a school budget. That says to me, we need to look at some different ways of doing things,” she said, adding getting more people involved in the process could raise the engagement level of residents.

Councilor Will Rowan supports “fostering further dialogue with the public,” but was concerned with the ad hoc committee approach.

“I firmly believe (we need more community involvement), but feel this is not the way to do that,” he said.

The purpose of the committee would have been to “work with and support the town manager and town council on strategies to better community understanding of budget processes” and “help implement and support improvements to the budget process as identified by the town council and board of education,” as well as proposing ideas for additional communication and outreach efforts.

For councilor Chris Caiazzo, creating an ad hoc group that is tackling things that other council groups, such as the finance committee or communications committee already do, wasn’t a “great policy” decision.

Councilor Bill Donovan said his concern with forming the committee was that is could become divisive and “have the opposite affect on what we all would like to see.”

Council Chairman Shawn Babine said that is exactly what happened with the last ad hoc budget committee that was formed in the late 1990s, which ended up becoming too politically driven.

He said the improvements the council is looking for may be beyond the scope of an ad hoc committee.

“There is so much information, it is difficult to accomplish what you want with just an ad hoc committee,” he said.

Foley, however was convinced formation of the committee was indeed, the right approach.

“Sometimes you need to try something different to reap a reward,” she said.

Donovan said there has been a lot of work done in recent years to improve the way in which the budget is discussed between councilors, between school board members and with the public.

“We have had a whole series of improvements with the way in which we do things,” he said, pointing out the annual community forum and the budget book that better lays out the numbers, the budget requests and the reasoning behind those requests.

That being said, councilors were still adamant about finding additional ways to improve the budget dialogue and communication with residents.

Councilor Peter Hayes said since seven of the last 11 school budget votes have been defeated, clearly something about the process needs to change.

“We need to do something differently, but I am not sure what that is,” he said.

Foley said her concern with not creating the committee, which would have been charged with looking into the budget process over the next few months before reporting its recommendations back to the council in February, is the town is on the cusp of starting the process again and no changes have been made. Town department heads and school central office leaders and building principals typically begin reviewing budgets and investment proposals in December.

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

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