FALMOUTH — The Town Council is set to vote on a nearly $48.4 million fiscal year 2018 budget that would raise the tax rate by 85 cents per $1,000 of valuation.
A proposed school budget of about $36 million would add 80 cents, while the municipal budget of $12.4 million would add 5 cents, leading to an overall tax rate of $15.98 per $1,000 of assessed value.
During a public hearing on the budget at Falmouth Elementary School April 5, only one resident, John Winslow, questioned the spending package, which the council will take up at 7 p.m. on April 24.
Winslow argued that the town did not need to hire more police officers and public works employees, as requested by Town Manager Nathan Poore.
He also argued that the School Department should not be trying to create “Falmouth University” and said there are costs in both budgets that could be reduced both by contracting for services and “taking advantage of the resources we already have.”
If the council approves the $36 million school budget as proposed, residents will vote on the plan in referendum scheduled for June 13.
The school budget takes into account a more than $933,000 loss in state aid to education, which is proposed as part of Gov. Paul LePage’s state budget now working its way through the Legislature.
Last week, school officials said there’s some hope that the Legislature will provide Falmouth with more education funding and if that happens any additional amount would be used for local property tax relief, they said.
In introducing the school budget, Danielle Tracy, chairwoman of the School Board’s Finance Committee, said that with the “significant cuts in state aid,” school officials agreed not to request any additional programs or positions in the proposed spending package. Tracy said that the loss in state funding alone adds 41 cents to the tax rate.
“We’ve put a lot of time and effort into the budget and are only rolling forward our fixed costs,” Tracy said. Even so, increases in salaries and benefits, among other cost increases, mean the school budget has gone up 3.27 percent.
In all, Tracy said, 85.3 percent of the budget are costs associated with the people “that directly work with kids. That amount is what goes toward direct instruction.”
“We also use efficiencies across the school campus to keep costs down,” she said. “We are really trying to maximize our resources. Our overall goal is to provide authentic learning experiences and we are working constantly to that end.”
In introducing the municipal budget, Poore said the town has not done any new hiring in recent years and “We don’t take it lightly when making a bundle of new requests like this.”
But he said it’s clear, based on call volume, that the Police Department needs several officers and another dispatcher, and that the Fire Department needs another part-time crew to run ambulances on the weekends.
In support of the new public works positions, Poore said Falmouth has done “a phenomenal job” in the past several years investing in infrastructure improvements, but now more staff is needed to ensure those capital projects are well maintained.
While Poore acknowledged the municipal budget represents “a significant increase in expenditure,” he also said the town is seeing an increase in revenue, particularly in terms of excise taxes, which somewhat offsets the increases.
Comparing Falmouth with other neighboring communities, Town Councilor Ned Kitchel, who is also a member of the town’s Finance Committee, said tax rate increases over the past several years, including the one proposed for fiscal 2018, have been “pretty darn reasonable.”