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Combined Cape budgets hold the line on taxes

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Combined Cape budgets hold the line on taxes

CAPE ELIZABETH — The town could see less than a 1 percent increase in property taxes if the proposed municipal and school budgets are approved.
The Town Council Monday voted to forward an $8.5 million fiscal 2010 municipal budget to the Finance Committee. That budget represents a decrease of $276,000, or 3.1 percent, from this year's budget, and would lead to a property tax decrease of 0.5 percent, or 2 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
The School Board Tuesday voted to forward a $20.2 million school budget to the Town Council. That budget is almost $15,000 less than was expected several weeks ago, and represents a $381,000, or 1.93 percent, increase from this year's school budget. If approved by the Town Council and a public referendum, the increase would add 10 cents to the property tax rate, or 0.77 percent.
Combined, the proposed budgets represent a total proposed property tax increase of less than one-half of 1 percent, or 8 cents, to the current rate of $17.44.
Both budgets face review by the Town Council's Finance Committee, a public hearing April 13, and approval by the Town Council April 30. The School Budget must also be validated by voters on May 12.
Decreases to the original school budget proposal came about because of the federal stimulus package, which is expected to undo a $421,000 state curtailment to this year's budget, as well as decreases in fuel costs and the anticipated rise in health benefit costs.
The budget still includes reductions in staff. At Tuesday's meeting, a handful of school employees spoke out against the proposed loss of educational technicians, anticipating that loss will lead to decreased teacher efficiency and an increased need for substitutes.
School Board members, including Chairwoman Trish Brigham, called the budget a "reasonable compromise" that addresses school needs and goals while respecting struggling taxpayers.
School Board member Rebecca Millett said it is "remarkable" that an originally expected shortfall of $1.1 million – due to contractual salary increases – was reduced "without having completely devastated our schools."
School Board member Mary Townsend asked that the Town Council pass the budget along to voters without amendment, saying that what the town needs this year is an "uncomplicated validation vote so the community can refocus its attention on what's best for the nation's economic recovery."
Last year, it took three referendums before voters approved a school spending plan.
The Town Council Finance Committee will begin review of the school budget March 30 after completing its review of the municipal budget, which begins March 19.
The municipal budget as proposed includes plans to regionalize emergency dispatch services, which has elicited opposition from many residents.
Both budgets face public hearings April 13, beginning at 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall.

Sarah Trent can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 108 or strent@theforecaster.net.
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