Falmouth budget proposal would increase taxes 3.5%

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FALMOUTH — The preliminary 2017 fiscal-year budget calls for a 3.5 percent tax increase.

The budget was outlined at a March 31 meeting of the Town Council and School Board finance committees.

Proposed total expenditures, including Cumberland County’s share of more than $1.5 million, would be nearly $48.5 million, with just less than $35 million in expenditures generated by the School Department.

The School Board unanimously approved its budget at an April 4 workshop and sent it to the Town Council.

The council will hold a presentation and public hearing on the proposed combined budget Thursday, April 7, at the elementary school on Woodville Road at 7 p.m. The council is scheduled to vote on the combined municipal and school budgets April 25, when public comment will also be allowed.

The general operating budget on the municipal side is just under $12 million, which is an increase of a little more than $444,000 – or 3.8 percent – over the current budget. Increases to expenses for personnel, including wages, retirement and health insurance, added more than $290,000 to the budget. A renewed collective bargaining agreement with public works and public safety added $62,000 as well.

The proposed budget also includes a $100,000 increase for funding open space acquisition and $75,000 for construction of a senior center. Town Manager Nathan Poore said at the meeting that the center would be constructed in the Mason Motz center on Lunt Road.

The municipal side of the budget calls for a 4-cent increase in the mil rate. The school’s budget calls for a 43-cent increase, and the Cumberland County share is a 3-cent increase, for a total of 51 cents.

If approved, the result would be a tax rate of $15.14 per $1,000 of assessed value, compared to $14.63 for the current fiscal year, a 3.5 percent increase.

The school portion of the proposed budget includes reductions in the pay-to-participate fee charged for sports and activities. The much-debated fee system was set in place in 2009 following budget shortfalls. Board members had discussed cutting pay-to-participate entirely, but ultimately stuck with phasing it out.

The proposed model would mean a one-time $175 annual fee for high school athletes, and a one-time $100 fee for middle school athletes. There would also be a $25 access fee for co-curricular activities. The current model is a set fee charged per sport.

“While we all agree we’d like to remove (pay to participate) … the hope is to phase it out,” School Board member Danielle Tracy said at the March 31 meeting. She added “philosophically we’d like to see it go away.”

Town Councilor Karen Farber, who was on the School Board when pay-to-participate was instituted, said the fee system was not something anyone wanted to do and was a “completely financial” decision.

“I don’t think anyone thought it would go untweaked or untouched,” she said at the meeting.

At the April 4 workshop, School Board Chairwoman Lucy Tucker said “we’re moving in the right direction” by phasing out pay-to-participate.

The final version of the school budget will appear before voters in a June 14 referendum. Voters will also be asked whether to continue holding a budget referendum for another three years.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Seal of Falmouth

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.