Falmouth hearing draws few comments on proposed budgets

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FALMOUTH — Fewer than a dozen residents commented during a public hearing on the municipal and school budgets, with only one person speaking against an education spending plan that calls for a tax increase.

John Winslow, a third-generation resident who lives on Gray Road, was the resident who spoke against the $11 million municipal budget and $29 million school budget during the April 11 hearing at Falmouth Elementary School. 

“Falmouth has become a stepping stone for people coming in here, using services and moving on,” he said. “That’s not community.”

In addition to questioning the need for a new part-time assistant principal at the high school and pay increase for School Department employees, Winslow said he was disappointed more residents didn’t turn out for the hearing.

The majority of comments from residents focused on the strength of the schools and need to invest in education.

The $29 million school budget is an increase of$2.8 million, or 10.8 percent, from the current budget. If approved by voters at the June 12 budget validation referendum, the spending plan would add 50 cents to the property tax rate.

The annual tax bill on a $300,000 home would increase by $150.

School Board member Andrew Kinley said half of the projected increase represents the first debt payment of $1.89 million on the new elementary school.

Other factors in the increase include a loss in revenue from federal jobs bill and Medicaid reimbursements, personnel and contract commitments and new requests to address increased enrollment and student needs, Kinley said.

“These (new requests) really aren’t new, they are things that because of enrollment we need to have,” Kinley said. New spending requests include a seventh-grade teacher, the part-time assistant principal at the high school, and additional hours for several district employees.

The school budget, approved by the School Board, does not include new programs or require any layoffs.

On the town side, the $11 million budget increases spending by 3 percent, but does not require a tax increase.

Town Manager Nathan Poore said the municipal share of the tax rate will stay at $3 per $1,000 of assessed value. The municipal budget includes a $319,000 bump in spending that Poore attributes to an anticipated increase in capital spending, cost-of-living and overtime increases and higher fuel costs.

Those increases were offset by a revenue increase of $328,000. The largest chunk – $239,000 – comes from vehicle excise fees.

During his presentation on the school budget at the public hearing, Kinley touted Falmouth’s school success and said the budget supports that excellence. He cited Falmouth’s rank as No. 1 on the list of “Top 10 Cities to Live and Learn” released by Forbes.com and the nonprofit group GreatSchools.

“I think we’re doing pretty well as a school district. We’ve got to keep working to keep the Falmouth school district strong,” Kinley said.

Dee Conroy-Vella, a School Board candidate, said the proposed school budget represents not only an investment in children, but in the community in general.

Karen Farber, a Town Council candidate, urged town councilors to unanimously support the school budget.

“I think this is the right budget,” she said. “It’s well thought out. This is a tight budget.”

Resident Josh Barrett said he and his wife, a native of Falmouth, moved back to town because of the schools. He said he fully supports the “responsible” spending plan.

“I think we’re getting a fantastic bang for our buck,” he said.

After the public hearing, Councilor Fred Chase said he is tempted to vote against the school budget because it calls for a property tax rate increase.

“I don’t think there’s any need of it,” he said.

Councilor Chris Orestis praised what he called the “transparent” budgeting process and said “it’s just so clear this is one of the best run towns not just in Maine, but in the country.”

Orestis said he will “proudly and loudly” support the school budget.

“I think there are a lot of communities out there who wish they were in the same position we’re in,” he said. 

Councilor Will Armitage said the town has strived to avoid tax increases when the economy is tough. He said it is frustrating that the School Department couldn’t do the same.

“D0 I like the (school) budget? No. Am I going to oppose it? No,” he said.

Town Council Chairwoman Teresa Pierce said the council will vote on the municipal budget on Monday, April 23, at Town Hall.

Gillian Graham can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or ggraham@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @grahamgillian.