SCARBOROUGH — The Town Council’s Finance Committee had a chilly response to the School Department’s presentation last week in its first examination of the fiscal 2010 budget.
In a full-day meeting on April 10, Chairman Shawn Babine, Ron Ahlquist and Richard Sullivan went through the municipal and school budgets and heard from department heads.
“In total, in all departments, I’m extremely impressed with the thoughtfulness they put into the budget,” Babine said this week. “They truly recognize this is just the beginning of what is so unpredictable for the next 18 months to two years.”
He added there are challenges on both budgets – expenses on the school side and revenue on the municipal side. At the committee’s next meeting, members will talk about the possibility of using reserve funds to supplement the town budget, he said.
Described by Town Manager Tom Hall in his written comments as the point “where quality meets value,” the fiscal 2010 municipal budget reflects a $658,000 decline in revenue, or 4.7 percent. Due in part to the willingness of all 157 full-time municipal employees to give up cost-of-living adjustments, appropriations increased by only $293,000, or 1.06 percent.
But the net increase in the $27.8 million municipal budget is $951,000, which is projected to increase the tax rate 1.49 percent to $12.33 per $1,000 of assessed value.
“Most department heads did a wonderful job on trying to keep expenses down,” Sullivan said.
He added that there wasn’t much room to make cuts, other than on the schools’ side and possibly the library.
Ahlquist said he’s concerned about a referendum that could further cut revenues.
“I think our painful decision days are ahead of us,” he said. “I truly respect and am thankful for what the municipal-side employees have done; I’d certainly rather see that than any kind of layoffs.”
Committee members had more unanswered questions about the proposed school budget, which is $35.6 million – a 1.17 percent increase over this year.
Accusing Scarborough Schools Superintendent David Doyle of “beat(ing) around the bush” when he was asked to break down employees’ step and cost-of-living increases, Babine speculated Doyle was unwilling to reveal the information because the department is still in negotiations with teachers. But he added his biggest problem with the school budget is the increased spending despite flat enrollment.
Doyle was unavailable for comment this week.
“I don’t think we’re going to accept it as they presented it,” Ahlquist said. “There will be some adjustments, just as on the municipal side.”
The Finance Committee was scheduled to meet again on Friday, April 17. The first reading of the proposed budget will be during a special Town Council meeting on Thursday, April 23, at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.
A public hearing is scheduled for the regular council meeting on Wednesday, April 29, at 7 p.m. The second reading will be held Wednesday, May 6.
The school budget validation referendum is scheduled for Tuesday, May 12. Absentee voting begins on May 7 in the town clerk’s office.
Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org.