Cape Council to consider budget May 15

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CAPE ELIZABETH —The Town Council voted 6-0 Monday night to table the 2017-18 combined $38.7 million town, school and county budget until May 15 to meet voting deadlines.

Monday night’s decision will give the council the required time to meet state mandates, Town Manager Matt Sturgis said.

“The table action was due to the legal requirement that the school budget validation vote needs to happen within 30 days of passing by the Town Council,” Sturgis said. “As the June voting date is June 13th, approving on the 8th would have been outside of that 30-day window. Approval on the 15th allows compliance with the legal requirements.”

It will be six councilors, not seven, who review the budget before anticipated adoption next week, too. That’s because Councilor Sara Lennon is on a temporary leave of absence, working for the town’s school district. Lennon, of Cranbrook Road, is filling an unexpected leave of absence for a Cape Elizabeth High School teacher, councilors learned Monday night. Lennon did not attend the meeting.

Cape Elizabeth’s charter does not allow for a sitting Town Councilor to be simultaneously employed by the town or school district. Councilors voted unanimously to grant the temporary leave, which is expected to last six weeks. Lennon will be able to return to the council.

Per the town’s website, “proposed spending is up 2.2 percent over this year’s $37.9 million combined budget. Taxes are proposed to increase to $18.22 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, 68 cents over this year’s rate, or 3.9 percent.”

Residents who attended Monday night’s meeting warned the council of a runaway school budget that is hard to pay for on a fixed income.

“I’ve witnessed sort of an emotional way to create a budget,” Brentwood Road resident Ruth Anne Haley said about the school spending plan.

Student enrollment is down, class size becomes smaller, teachers are kept on, she explained.

“I’m not sure we need all these teachers,” Haley said, adding that she is not a teacher.

“I really don’t think the continued increases can be justified,” she said. 

The proposed 2017-18 school budget is $24.8 million, or nearly $592,000 higher than the $24.2 million budget approved for 2016-17. Next year’s budget represents a 2.44 percent increase over the present budget.

Longfellow Drive resident Pete Dickerman told councilors Social Security recipients are barely getting by. For the last several years, the cost of living adjustment, or COLA, has been less than 1 percent. 

“I appreciate what you do, but try to figure out how you would live your life,” Dickerman said.

Councilor Jessica Sullivan, chairwoman of the council’s Finance Committee, received support for her motion that any extra money the school district may receive from the state be used to offset tax increases.

On a related note, the council did unanimously approve setting aside $3.7 million in special funds. These funds are not voted upon by residents. Money will go the following departments and cultural amenities for operating expenses at Fort Williams Par, Portland Head Light, the Spurwink Church, Riverside Cemetery, the Thomas Jordan Trust, infrastructure improvement, land acquisition, sewer, and rescue.

Lisa D. Connell can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or Follow Lisa on Twitter: @connell_ld.

Brentwood Road resident Ruth Anne Haley tells the Cape Elizabeth Town Council on May 8 that the school budget’s rise is unsustainable.