Budgets draw praise at Cape Elizabeth hearing

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CAPE ELIZABETH — It took almost as long for Town Council Chairwoman Sara Lennon to direct people to the Planning Board meeting Monday as it did for councilors to hear comments about the proposed $32.2 million combined fiscal 2013 budgets.

The Planning Board meeting was in an adjacent conference room, while council chambers resounded with support for the budgets in a hearing that lasted less than 15 minutes.

Councilors will vote on the municipal and school budgets on May 14. Their vote will enact the $8.86 million municipal budget drafted by Town Manager Michael McGovern. If they approve the $21.76 million school budget, it will move on to a June 12 voter referendum.

The total impact of the municipal, school and county obligations is expected to increase the property tax rate from $15.18 per $1,000 of assessed value to $15.85.

Council comments Monday were limited to praise from Lennon and an overview from council finance committee Chairman Frank Governali.

“I want to give a quick thanks to the many many people who worked creatively and collaboratively to put together what I think is an excellent budget,” Lennon said.

Governali said the budgets require a 4.4 percent property tax increase with spending projected to increase 2.6 percent. The effect on a median-valued home of $314,000 is a $210 annual tax increase.

“The underlying objective was to maintain existing services while constraining spending increases,” Governali said. “The town continued to invest in its capital stewardship program, allocating $723,000 to long-term investment needs.”

No one from the public spoke about the municipal budget, but four residents expressed wholehearted support for the proposed school spending.

School Superintendent Meredith Nadeau, board members and district staff succeeded in recognizing what was important in funding local education, Trish Brigham, a Rock Crest Drive resident and co-president of the nonprofit Cape Elizabeth Education Foundation, said. 

Governali shares the CEEF leadership post with Brigham.

“I think the School Board and district leadership team should be commended for developing a budget that seems to keep most programs intact in the face of drastically reduced federal and state funding,” Brigham said.

Budget documents show the School Department lost a net $236,000 in federal and state subsidies for the next fiscal year. Accumulated Medicare funds offset $480,000 of revenue losses of $452,000 in federal jobs bill subsidies and $272,000 in state aid.

Trinity Road resident Kathy Lualdi agreed with Brigham. “We have to maintain a certain minimum not only to do what we have done well, but to move forward,” Lualdi said.

Dana Stanley, a father of three who lives on Abaco Drive, said he and his family moved to town because of its reputation for schools.

“Our expectations have been met so far,” he said. “I believe the proposed budget strikes the necessary balance between the stellar system of education we all expect and recognizing the reality of the challenging economy.”

Brigham and Hunts Point Road resident Dan Fishbein said collaboration and compromise were critical in making the budget work well for all. They contrasted smooth school budget deliberations in town to more contentious discussions in other communities.

“We have a reasonable situation in front of us this year instead of a crisis,” Fishbein said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow David on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.