Falmouth budget will add 72 cents to property tax rate

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FALMOUTH — With little discussion and no public comment the Town Council has passed a nearly $49.9 million fiscal year 2018 budget.

The budget will raise taxes by 72 cents, increasing the overall tax rate from $15.09 to $15.81 per $1,000 of valuation.

The municipal portion of the budget represents $12.45 million of the total, which represents an increase in spending of about 2.7 percent, from the current $11.9 million, and includes several new positions, particularly in the fire and police departments.

The school portion of the budget is $35.8 million, which represents an increase of 2.4 percent from the current $34.9 million, and there are no new programs or positions included.

After a budget validation meeting on May 15, the proposed school budget will go to a voter referendum June 13.

The budget benefited from a reduction in the expected increase in health insurance benefits on the school side, according to Dan O’Shea, finance director at the School Department.

O’Shea also said once the state budget is passed any additional amount the Falmouth schools receive in general aid to education would go toward property tax relief.

Along with passing the budget, the Town Council also discussed proposed changes to ordinances that would allow farming and husbandry at Hurricane Valley Farm, which were requested by the potential tenant for the property, Cultivating Community.

In introducing the proposed amendments, Amanda Stearns, the town’s community development director, said the goal is to “provide ways to expand uses and to support activities” in order to make working farms more viable.

In late February, Craig Lapine, executive director at Cultivating Community, said he has big plans for the Hurricane Valley Farm, including both produce and livestock trial programs, a retail store, a community garden, an orchard and a variety of programming.

“We have a wide array of activities that we’re proposing that are rooted in agriculture,” Lapine told the Town Council this past winter. “We are very much committed to making the farm an educational resource and a community asset.”

Lapine added, “We envision that the (farm) will incorporate incubator plots for farmers; community garden space; growing sites for youth; a grazing/livestock site; a summer camp for children; orchard-based education; local food eating events and land stewardship opportunities.”

In drafting the proposed ordinance amendments, Stearns said she took “a broad approach,” which she said was necessary “if we want to keep working farms in Falmouth.”

She called the new uses that would be allowed “ancillary” and are designed to be “directly related” to farming and raising animals.

Stearns said the council would hold a public hearing on the proposed ordinance amendments May 22 and the Planning Board would review them at its June 2 meeting.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.