Falmouth council aims for no-tax-increase municipal spending

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FALMOUTH — Town Councilors on Monday night discussed how to reduce the projected municipal tax rate increase.

The fiscal year 2017 budget, as outlined by the finance committees from the council and School Board, would raise taxes by 3.5 percent. 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 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.

But at Monday night’s council meeting, Vice Chairman Russell Anderson and Councilor Charlie McBrady said they want a flat mil rate on the municipal side of the budget. Anderson said 4 cents is “so close to no increase” that he hopes there is a way to get it down.

“A flat mil rate is an appropriate goal,” Anderson said.

Councilors did not discuss how the school budget impacts the mil rate. That goes to a voter referendum June 14.

If the budget is not changed and the school portion is 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.

Town Manager Nathan Poore said to keep the mil rate level, about $85,000 would have to be trimmed from the town budget.

Poore said one avenue the council could take would be adjusting an increase for open-space acquisition. The proposed budget called for increasing the funding by $100,000, which would bring the total to $300,000.

Poore said funds could be moved from an unassigned balance to increase the open space fund, then replenished from the sale of two acres of the Hadlock Community Forest.

On Tuesday, Poore said the plan is to use $200,000 from the unassigned fund balance towards open-space acquisition. The remaining $100,000 for open space acquisition will still come from property taxes. The proceeds of the Hadlock sale – less than $100,000 – would then roll into the unassigned fund balance.

He said this action would make the municipal side of the tax impact flat when compared to the current fiscal year, at $3 per $1,000 of assessed value.

“The net impact on the unassigned fund balance is $100,000, roughly,” Poore said.

The council will vote on the entire budget April 25. Other than the mil rate change, the budget remains as originally presented.

The council and School Board held a presentation on April 7 at the elementary school. Of the few members of the public who did speak, the response was generally supportive.

Andy Meyer, of Beachwood Lane, said he was “delighted” the tax increase was being kept low, and that the council decided to increase open-space funding.

“I value open spaces … just knowing they’re there,” Meyer said.

There was some dissention, however.

Gray Road resident John Winslow said he has not seen due diligence by the School Board, and wants the council to “stand up and finally say no” to the school budget. He said the budget has increased 40 percent from six years ago, while enrollment has remained basically flat during that time.

“There has to be a more affordable way to achieve public education,” he said.

The school budget referendum in June is contingent on council approval April 25.

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

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.