Cape Elizabeth gets jump on budget discussions

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Town Manager Mike McGovern is projecting an 18-cent, or 4.7 percent, tax increase for the next fiscal year.

McGovern presented the fiscal year 2017 budget outlook at a joint Town Council and School Board workshop Monday night.

He also said he believes he can make cuts that would result in a smaller increase.

McGovern said his target is to keep the tax rate increase to no more than 2.7 percent, or 10 cents. He said reaching that goal would require cutting $170,000 from the budget, and he will be talking to all department heads about making cuts.

The current tax rate is $3.80 per $1,000 of assessed value. The 2017 municipal budget will be further discussed in more detail at upcoming Town Council meetings.

Superintendent of Schools Meredith Nadeau also presented a budget outlook, although she didn’t discuss particular figures for fiscal year 2017. She focused on what the big budget drivers will be, including salaries and benefits, which are expected to be 81 percent of the budget. The school budget will also be further discussed at upcoming School Board meetings.

The meeting brought together councilors and School Board members so they could follow up on topics first discussed at a Jan. 7 Town Council workshop. They also reviewed the role of the council in the school budget process.

After the Town Council reduced the school budget last year, many School Board members and parents were upset and questioned the council’s ability to make major budget decisions. After last year’s budget process was over, councilors said they wanted to make sure they discussed budgets earlier this year with the School Board.

“I think it’s important that we’re all aware of our roles and responsibilities in this process,” council Chairwoman Molly MacAuslan said.

Each year the School Board sets the school budget and must send it to the town manager by April 15; he then forwards it to the council. The council reviews the budget and is allowed to adjust it. The budget is then sent to a public hearing, where it is voted on by the Town Council. It goes to voters in June for validation.

No one from the Town Council or School Board commented on the process during the meeting.

The two boards also discussed plans for the former Spurwink School, which has been serving as the temporary home of the Thomas Memorial Library while the library is being renovated. The 166-year-old building will be unoccupied starting next week when the library reopens.

They formed a committee of two councilors, Caitlin Jordan and Jamie Garvin, and two School Board members, Heather Altenburg and John Voltz, to discuss uses for the building. The committee will review proposals for the space, including one from the School Department to make a creative learning center for school and community collaborations.

The Town Council will formally adopt the charge to the committee at its Feb. 8 meeting. MacAuslan said she would like to receive a report from the panel by early May.

On Monday, councilors and School Board members also discussed transferring oversight of Community Services, at 343 Ocean House Road, from the School Department to the municipality. Community Services was created as a municipal department in 1977; it was transferred to the School Department about a decade ago.

According to McGovern, programs offered by Community Services are now being utilized more by senior citizens, who have been asking Community Services to provide them with more resources and activities. So it no longer makes sense for the School Department to handle the program.

In January, McGovern suggested that Community Services should become a municipal department again effective July 1. On Monday, councilors and School Board members decided they would vote separately on the issue at their upcoming meetings and report back.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.