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Some Scarborough residents urge fewer budget cuts, higher taxes

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Some Scarborough residents urge fewer budget cuts, higher taxes

SCARBOROUGH — The Town Council heard from 14 residents during a public hearing on the budget Wednesday evening, and most of them spoke in support of the school budget.

The Finance Committee, a subcommittee of the council, has proposed a 3.95 percent increase in taxes to cover the combined $64.8 million municipal and school budgets, which would raise the property tax rate to $12.36 per $1,000 of assessed value.

"The challenge this year really comes down to the revenue decreases," Town Manager Tom Hall said, citing a more than 19 percent decrease in general purpose aid from the state for the School Department.

While the School Board's first reading of the budget included a reduction of 43 positions, it later restored nearly 12 jobs without changing the tax levy thanks to increases in the amount of state subsidy and lower-than-predicted insurance and debt costs.

Several homeroom teachers, an English and a history teacher at the high school, and music, art and physical education teachers at the elementary levels were restored. But more than 31 jobs would still be lost.

Adam Saltz, a senior at Scarborough High School, asked the council to consider adding enough money to the school budget to restore a health teacher position that is on the chopping block.

"We are the unhealthiest nation in the world, and that's an understatement," Saltz said. "If we want to move forward, we must reinstate, and better yet increase, the number of health positions in the Scarborough School Department."

Another high school student, Heather Carrier, also spoke out in support of the health program.

Some of those present spoke in favor of other programs that are being considered for cuts or elimination, including funding for social service agencies such as domestic violence shelters, child abuse prevention and sexual assault prevention.

"Nothing defines a community like a budget shortfall," Christine Kukka said. "I noticed that the violent crime task force has a $30,000 increase this year. If we were more proactive about prevention, we wouldn't need to do that."

While those in support of the current budget or those requesting additional taxes be levied to increase revenues outnumbered those who urged fiscal conservatism, there were several speakers who asked the council to maintain a hard line.

"You can't keep coming back and asking for more from me," said Scott Berube, who explained that his own income has declined. "Stay strong in what you have to do."

Capital improvements

The proposed capital improvement plans for both the town and the schools were also presented during the hearing.

The municipal plan calls for $3.65 million in capital improvements, including a plan to reconstruct Haigis Parkway and its intersection with Route 1 and funds set aside to rebuild the newly purchased parking lot at Higgins Beach.

The school's $1.16 million capital improvement plan includes the purchase of laptop computers for every high school student.

"It ought to be against the law to put laptops in capital improvement plans," Dave Green said. "Our grandkids will have to pay for them."

Funds for capital improvement are borrowed, generally with repayment schedules no longer than the items to be purchased will last. Hall said the funds will likely be bonded in April, 2011, meaning the debt service for the proposed capital improvements will not appear in this year's budget.

The council will make its final adjustments and vote on the budget Wednesday, May 5. A school budget validation referendum is scheduled May 11.

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