Falmouth budgets could add 90 cents to tax rate

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FALMOUTH — Adjustments are still being made to the proposed new school and municipal budgets, but if adopted as initially presented, the combined spending would total nearly $49.9 million and require a 90-cent increase to the tax rate.

The municipal budget for fiscal year 2019 is $12.7 million, an increase in spending of nearly $276,000, according to Town Manager Nathan Poore. If adopted, the municipal portion of the budget would add 9 cents to the tax rate.

The 2019 school budget totals $37.1 million for an increase of $1.3 million in spending, Superintendent of Schools Geoff Bruno said. If adopted with no changes, school spending would add 81 cents to the tax rate.

The School Board is scheduled to hold a special meeting April 2 to approve the new budget, which would then go to a joint public hearing, scheduled for 7 p.m. April 4 at Town Hall. A voter referendum is scheduled for June 12.

If passed as proposed, the total tax rate would increase to $16.52 from $15.62 per $1,000 of real estate valuation.

Dan O’Shea, the director of finance and operations for the School Department, said Tuesday that the School Board’s Finance Committee has been “whittling down and reviewing” the proposed budget and more changes are likely following a joint meeting with the Town Council’s Finance Committee on Monday, March 26.

“We still have a couple weeks” to continue budget negotiations, O’Shea said, although he noted more than $150,000 has already been “knocked off” the School Department’s new spending requests.

He said the single biggest factor impacting the school budget is a reduction of nearly $733,000 in state aid to education. “The reduction certainly adds complexity. That’s a 32-cent impact right there,” O’Shea said.

He said the School Board’s Finance Committee has “been very thorough” in reviewing the budget and “there’s been a lot of good conversation.” The problem, he said, is that “it’s tough not to add expenses,” especially when new positions are enrollment driven, such as a new kindergarten teacher.

A request for a new school resource officer at the elementary and middle schools is not included in the School Department’s proposed budget, but will be part of the municipal budget request, according to Lt. John Kilbride of the Falmouth Police.

The Police Department picks up the expense for the current school resource officer and a new officer would be part of its budget beginning in January 2019, Kilbride said Tuesday.

He said internal adjustments would be made for the six months between the start of the fiscal year on July 1 and the start of 2019 in order to accommodate the cost of hiring the second school officer, which is anticipated to be about $45,800.

In his budget memo to the School Board, Bruno said, “We believe our proposal moves the (school) district forward in a manner that provides the best possible educational experience for every child K-12.”

“Our goal is to be as transparent as possible in articulating the resources necessary to meet the diverse needs of all learners … and provide the technology (and) facilities infrastructure necessary to excel in a 21st-century global community,” he added.

Overall, he said, the proposed budget represents an increase in spending of 3.7 percent. Over the past several months, Bruno said, “Our leadership team has been collaborating with faculty and staff … to put together a budget that reflects our needs and priorities as a district.”

Along with a new kindergarten teacher, other new personnel requests include a third guidance counselor at the elementary school and an additional world language teacher and computer science/technology teacher at the middle school.

At the high school, a new assistant athletic director is being proposed, as are new part-time positions that would “diversify our music offerings to include strings and music theory, expand on our computer science courses, and strengthen individualized support for all students in mathematics,” Bruno said.

In summing up the school budget proposal, he said, “The leadership team has spent considerable time weighing building and district-wide priorities to craft a budget that puts the needs of our students and faculty first, respects the fiscal challenges we continue to face as a community, and invests in the resources necessary to continuously improve learning for all.”

On the municipal side of the budget, Poore said the proposed spending package represents a 3 percent increase. New positions for the town include a full-time emergency medical attendant/firefighter and increasing the town registrar’s position to 25 hours a week.

In his budget message to the Town Council, Poore said, “This budget maintains financial stability, delivers necessary services and focuses on sustainable solutions.”

“The majority of our spending,” he added, “goes to the delivery of services, such as Parks and Community Programs, public safety and public works.” In fact, public safety and public works are the two biggest budget-drivers.

While Poore is expecting an increase in non-property tax revenue, particularly in terms of building permits and excise taxes, he also said increased expenses, particularly for personnel, would offset any new revenue that comes in.

In addition, he is also expecting some revenue losses, such as a total of $13,000 less from the towns of Yarmouth and North Yarmouth, which are ending their animal control services contract with Falmouth, and about $27,500 less from the lease of the cell tower at Town Hall.

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

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