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Scarborough council gives $450K back to schools, approves budget

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Scarborough council gives $450K back to schools, approves budget

SCARBOROUGH — A determination to hold the line on municipal spending and debate with the School Board over its proposed spending led to the approval Wednesday of a fiscal 2010 budget that maintains this year's property tax rate of $12.15 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The final figures put the total net operating budget at $42.7 million, a 0.9 percent increase from this year; the education portion of the budget is $35.1 million, an increase of 0.1 percent.

"At the end, if nobody leaves happy, we've done our job," Councilor and Finance Committee member Ron Ahlquist said after the council's unanimous vote.

Key to appeasing several councilors appeared to be an agreement between the Board of Education and the teachers' union to forgo teachers' cost-of-living salary increase for fiscal year 2010. The agreement represents a $140,000 savings from the 1 percent increase budgeted for 2010 and affects about 300 teachers and others in the bargaining unit, according to board member Annalee Rosenblatt. The teachers' contract was scheduled to expire this summer.

The board had been challenged by the Town Council to come in with no pay increases in the budget after municipal workers and school administration personnel agreed to hold the line for next year.

Councilors voted to make several changes to the figures established during the first reading. The most dramatic was to restore nearly $450,000 in educational funding.

After review by the Finance Committee last month, $807,000 had been withheld from the proposed fiscal 2010 school budget. Of that amount, $92,000 was withheld at the recommendation of Town Manager Tom Hall and an additional $715,000 was from the committee.

At Wednesday's meeting, the council voted 5-2 to restore the $450,000 to the schools, with Councilors Ron Ahlquist, Carol Rancourt, Mike Wood, Judy Roy and Karen D'Andrea voting in favor and Councilors Shawn Babine and Richard Sullivan opposed. After factoring in the savings of the 1 percent cost-of-living included in the budget, Hall said Thursday the schools will see $190,000 less than what they initially asked for and $49,000 more than they received last year.

Because municipal revenue sharing is projected to be cut 15 percent by the state, councilors voted unanimously to remove $200,000 from non-property tax revenue. They also voted to amend the budget to reflect a $72,000 decrease in debt service and a $7,600 savings in public works from ecomaine.

Councilors increased funding to the Scarborough Economic Development Corp. to bring it back to $180,000 and added $15,000 to senior property tax relief, increasing the fund from $110,000 to $125,000.

And, despite a caution from Hall, they added $50,000 to community services revenue, without indicating how that would be raised.

"All I can do in the end is offer my opinion," Hall said. "I know on what theory that motion is offered. I would always rather be conservative; to budget for it is a bit of a push."

Councilors thanked the teachers and the municipal and school administration workers for agreeing to forgo salary increases, other than step increases.

On Thursday, Board of Education Chairman Brian Dell'Olio said the approved budget is "really a great one for everybody."

"It keeps the tax rate flat, maintains programs and services and keeps us from laying anyone off," he said. "I would encourage citizens to vote for it."

The school budget validation referendum will be held from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday, May 12, in the conference room at Scarborough High School.  Absentee ballots are available from the town clerk; Town Hall will be open Saturday, May 9, for absentee ballots.

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

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