Election 2016: After rare debate, Yarmouth school budget goes to voters

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YARMOUTH — A proposed $23.1 million school budget that has generated rare public opposition goes to voters June 14.

The fiscal year 2017 school budget was approved by the Town Council May 5 and will be considered at the annual Town Meeting June 7 before going to referendum.

The proposed budget is an increase of almost $1.1 million, or 4.97 percent, over current spending.

Superintendent of Schools Andrew Dolloff in February said the biggest budget driver is increasing enrollment, which has gone up 14 percent since 2010, with almost 80 new students across the district’s four schools during this year alone.

The budget is also being driven by an increase in salaries and benefits, which make up 63 and 17 percent of the total, respectively. Dolloff said the increase is due in part to the need to hire more staff to keep up with enrollment.

Because of a property revaluation taking place this spring,  the total proposed budget, which includes school, municipal and county assessments, would reduce the tax rate by $3.36, or 15.61 percent. The tax rate would decrease from $21.56 per $1,000 of assessed value to $18.20.

Residents over the past few months have been split, with some saying the increased school budget is needed to help Yarmouth students, and others saying the tax burden is too high for those on fixed incomes to absorb.

The debate has prompted some people to place signs on their lawns urging people to vote either for or against the school budget. A petition with more than 100 signatures was submitted to the council in April by Bruce Soule of the Tax Study Committee, asking that the school budget be reduced.

Councilors on May 5 moved the budget forward, with Councilor Pat Thompson opposed. She said more could have been done by the School Committee and the Town Council to consider the needs of all residents.

The June 7 Town Meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at Frank Harrison Middle School. The budget referendum vote will take place 7 a.m.-8 p.m. June 14 at the AMVETS Hall on North Road.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.