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Proposed Falmouth budget calls for cuts in staff, teachers; Flyer gets 1 more year

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Proposed Falmouth budget calls for cuts in staff, teachers; Flyer gets 1 more year

FALMOUTH — The Town Council will hold a special meeting Wednesday, March 31, at 7 p.m. to hear comments from the public on the proposed school and municipal budgets.

Despite decreases in state subsidies and revenue sources, neither the municipal nor school budgets call for an increase in the tax rate for Falmouth residents.

"We made a lot of hard decisions last year that helped out this year," Town Manager Nathan Poore said.

The proposed school budget of just over $24.5 million calls for the elimination of several teachers and support staff, a $15,000 cut in textbook purchases and the implementation of a pay-to-play program for extracurricular activities.

Superintendent of Schools Barbara Powers said the School Department has been able to make the cuts while staying within its class-size policy.

"Some cuts were tied to enrollment. We are choosing not to replace in a couple of situations. We're using staff in a creative way," Powers said.

The pay-to-play program is still being developed, but Powers said it is likely that after-school extracurriculars will cost $25 per student, while athletics will range from $125 to $250 per student, depending on the actual costs of the programs.

The district's cutbacks are due, in part, to state subsidies of nearly $827,000 less than the town received this year. Some funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act have been made available to make up for some of the cuts, but the district is still seeing a more than $631,000 reduction over this year.

While a reduction in funding is never welcome, officials were relieved that it was not the $1.9 million curtailment suggested at the beginning of budget discussions.

"This will set us up better for reductions next year. We don't like surprising anybody," Powers said.

The school system will lose the stimulus funds next year and, unless state funding is restored, will need to make up the loss in further budget reductions.

On the municipal side, revenues from non-property taxes, including state revenue sharing, were down nearly $224,000 from this year's budget. That brings the town's municipal operating budget to just under $10.4 million, a 1.8 percent deline.

The shortfall will be made up by not filling an open position in the Parks Department, as well as by reducing the amount of funding for open space and land acquisition. Non-union employees will also not receive a cost-of-living increase this year.

There has been discussion of eliminating the Falmouth Flyer bus service, which is part of the Portland Metro bus system, as a means of cutting costs. A recent survey of 874 Falmouth residents showed the bus service was the least important priority on a list of potential cost-saving measures, including reductions in trash pick-up and emergency dispatch.

But at a Finance Committee meeting last week, Poore explained that $30,000 in funding for the service could be taken from a dedicated Mass Transit account that was created in 2003 to support the service.

"This will only cover one year's worth of savings," he said. "We will have to have another discussion about this soon."

The funding will eliminate the need for a tax increase to support the current program.

"I understand how people feel about the bus, that it only serves Route 1. But you have to consider who it serves. It serves people who aren't helped by other services in town," said Councilor Bonny Rodden, adding that elderly residents use the bus service regularly.

Members of Friends of Falmouth Flyer recently surveyed 28 businesses along Route 1 and found that nine had employees who regularly rode the bus to work. At Wendy's, three-quarters of the employees reported riding the bus daily.

If the town wants to eliminate the service, it is required to give a year's notice to Metro. The council will re-evaluate the program before the contract is up in January 2011.

"My expectations have been much higher for use of Metro by Falmouth residents," Councilor Tony Payne said. "I think we lack the fundamental demographics to support the service."

The municipal budget also supports hiring a new police officer, a position that was eliminated from this year's budget, but had to be added back in mid-year. In addition, the town will also hire two dispatchers to cover the projected increase in calls when the towns of Yarmouth and North Yarmouth move their dispatch services to Falmouth.

The town will vote on the final version of the budget on June 8.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net