Cape Elizabeth council’s budget vote kills school building study

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CAPE ELIZABETH — A feasibility study for school renovations is off the table after the Town Council on Monday adopted a $25.4 million school budget for fiscal year 2019 that is $249,000 less than what the School Board requested.

The council also voted 5-2 in favor of a $12.4 million municipal budget that includes funding for a school resource officer and a senior tax assistance program.

Councilors also scheduled a June 11 public hearing on a proposed zoning change that will allow a Shore Road business to sell used cars.

The reduction to the school budget is the amount the board budgeted for a $249,000 engineering and architectural feasibility study of future school facility improvements.

If approved by voters in June, the $25.4 million budget would increase the school’s portion of the tax rate by 9.6 percent, rather than 10.2 percent as initially proposed.

The $39.5 million combined town, school and county budget poses a 6.6 percent increase to taxpayers, up $1.19 over this year’s $18 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Councilors Caitlin Jordan, Sara Lennon and Chris Straw voted for the School Board’s $25.6 million recommended budget, but were in the minority.

Chairwoman Jessica Sullivan and Councilors Valerie Randall, Penny Jordan and Jamie Garvin said they opposed the board’s budget because of the inclusion of the feasibility study.

Garvin said he “fully supports the need for the many of the improvements that have been recommended for the schools,” but thinks costs associated with them should come from the town’s budget.

“These are town buildings, town assets,” he said. “… I don’t want my vote against (the $25.6 million budget) to be perceived as a vote against moving forward with these.”

Randall said she was concerned with approving the funds for a study without knowing the scope of the project, noting that she supports the 3.1 percent increase to current school spending if the money goes towards programming.

Sullivan echoed Randall’s concerns about the feasibility study, saying the “cart is way before the horse.”

“I will not be supporting this for that (money) and what it leads to,” she added. Early estimates put the cost of recommended renovations between $27 million and $28 million.

The council then approved the reduced budget 5-1. Caitlin Jordan opposed the motion, saying the feasibility study would answer the council’s questions regarding the needs, scope and cost of the renovations.

She also pointed out that council does not have authority to designate where the $249,000 will be cut.

“The reality is that if you cut ($249,000) of the budget because you don’t want them to do the feasibility study … they could turn around and do the study and cut ($249,000) out of somewhere else,” she said.

However, in a May 16 email, School Board Chairwoman Susana Measelle Hubbs said given the cut, “we will not be including the feasibility study in (the) FY19 budget.”

“Had we been able to meet before the School Board voted on the budget in April and been given direct feedback from Town Council about the wish to delay the feasibility study, we would have likely added other items to our budget instead,” she added. “For example, funding the completion of the Pond Cove Elementary School playground.”

Municipal budget

The adopted $12.4 million budget includes $90,000 for the Police Department to hire a school resource officer to primarily patrol the high school. Also included in the town’s special funds is $75,000 to implement a senior tax assistance program.

Randall and Sullivan voted against the municipal budget as proposed, saying they opposed funds for the officer.

Sullivan said she supported the position in concept, but believes it should be funded by the schools, while Randall said she opposed the position from a philosophical standpoint.

“I know there’s a lot of concern about the safety of children in schools (but) I strongly believe there are other ways to address safety issues in the schools,” Randall said. “… I have concerns that behaviors that are very normal among children will become criminal.”

Zoning

The council will hold a public hearing on June 11 on a proposal to allow the Cape Elizabeth Service Center to sell up to three cars at a time at 560 Shore Road.

The Planning Board on April 23 unanimously recommended amendments to town zoning that will allow the use in the town’s Business A District on Shore Road.

Under current zoning, selling used cars is not allowed in the district.

The amendments backed by the board create a definition for a repair garage and then allow the sale of up to three cars as part of the use, but only in the Business A District on Shore Road.

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

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