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Taxes unchanged under Falmouth budgets

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Taxes unchanged under Falmouth budgets

FALMOUTH — The Town Council will receive proposed municipal and school budgets in a special meeting next Wednesday.
At just under $10.2 million, down $550,000 from this year, the fiscal 2010 municipal budget reflects a "substantial decrease in expenditures and fewer revenues," Town Manager Nathan Poore said. The 4.8 percent decrease from this year's $10.7 million budget will keep the tax rate on the municipal side at the current level of $2.95 per $1,000 of assessed value, Poore said.
Decreases in non-tax revenues, becoming a full member of Metro, increases to health insurance costs and establishing a 24-hour paramedic service were some of the budget demands that required adjustments to keep the tax rate neutral. To compensate, Poore said he has extended open space funding over a greater number of years, eliminated a project that would put a roof over the Village Park Ice Rink, reduced staff and moved to a four-day Town Hall work week.
In addition, the budget reflects a controversial decision to close Pleasant Hill Fire Station. But the council will hear further comments on that issue in a public hearing that precedes councilors' vote on the budget, scheduled for April 27.
If the council decides not to close the fire station, it could choose to increase the budget and, subsequently, the tax rate, or decide to reduce spending in other areas of the budget, Poore said.
The proposed school budget of just over $25.2 million is an increase of $105,000, or 0.4 percent over this year. The effect will very likely be a zero-impact budget that would keep the schools' portion of the tax rate at the current figure of $10.81 per $1,000 of assessed value.
It was a particularly challenging budget because of all the unknowns in the stimulus package, Dan O'Shea, school director of finance and operations, said. Though the state announced federal funds would restore the $475,000 curtailment imposed on Falmouth schools, many unanswered questions regarding the availability of any additional money helped the district decide to develop a budget that does not depend on those funds, he said.
"We're really pleased – we kind of surprised ourselves," O'Shea said. "It's a hard time, but in a weird way it makes some of these decisions clearer."
O'Shea said unlike some other school departments, Falmouth looks at the budget "as a team," instead of building by building. "We do everything at the table together," O'Shea said.
With enrollment declining, they saved $410,000 by cutting 7.5 staff positions through attrition from retirements and relocations, he said. They also chose not to fill the technology director's position.
Another challenge for teachers was the district's request that each school take a 20 percent reduction. Finding ways to do that included making all teacher conferences and training in-house, which saves money by using the talent and expertise already available in the district and by eliminating the need to hire substitute teachers to fill in.
But O'Shea admitted that a few things just fell their way. In the last few years the district has completed a lot of energy improvements that kept heating costs down. And they've already locked in heating oil for next year at $1.92 per gallon.
School Board Chairwoman Beppie Cerf said she credits the administration for its approach, giving every department a sense of ownership.
"I think this is the way to handle the budget – you believe it when you see it," she said. "Anything we might get, great – but we're not going to count on it."
Next week's special Town Council meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 25 at Town Hall.

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or proberts@theforecaster.net.
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