Falmouth officials begin preliminary budget discussions

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FALMOUTH — Though more substantive discussions won’t begin until the spring, town and School Department officials have begun preliminary talks about what they expect in the upcoming budget.

Town Manager Nathan Poore said when it comes to challenges and opportunities in the fiscal year 2017 budget, the town’s portion is”pretty straightforward.”

Poore anticipates there will be standard cost-of-living salary adjustments, with an increase of nearly $139,000 tentatively proposed, a 3 percent rise from the nearly $3.6 million budgeted this year.

Poore also said there may be slight growth on the revenue side of the budget from fees and licenses.

The town’s first interest payment of $46,000 on funds borrowed to expand Falmouth Memorial Library will have to be paid. The renovations cost approximately $5.6 million; up to $2.8 million was financed by a town-issued bond that voters approved in 2014.

Health-care costs are expected to remain flat, according to the town’s finance director, Pete McHugh. There are also savings anticipated in the cost of electricity, as well as savings from moving some capital improvements projects to and from the new OceanView and natural gas tax increment financing district.

“Overall we’re not seeing anything other than the normal cost adjustments,” Poore said. “There are no new services we’re anticipating or other demands that would be a challenge on the town’s budget.”

Dan O’Shea, the School Department finance director, said there are “no unusual pressures” facing the schools.

The School Board has indicated its desire to move away from the pay-to-participate model for high school and middle school activities. Pay-to-participate is a fee system that was set in place in 2009 because of budget shortfalls, where families pay a set amount of money for a student to play a sport. Board members have said they want to incorporate the cost into the budget and do away with the fee system.

In terms of capital projects, O’Shea said the schools and facilities are in “decent shape,” but added there are “always smaller projects on the table.” He said the middle school needs a conference room because the old one was was converted into classroom space. O’Shea said as a result, teachers use the conference room in the administration building.

Additionally, O’Shea said administrators are looking to add airlocks at the middle and high school entrances, in particular at the high school. O’Shea said it would make the building safer, by directing visitors to the front office, and be more energy-efficient.

“We’re looking at plans, it’s not priced out yet,” O’Shea said.

O’Shea also said the School Department is looking to expand the administrative office building. He said there is a need for a larger conference room, and there are  two offices with three people working in each of them. He said the expansion would make the conference room larger and add two more offices.

“We’ll probably at least start some engineering and architectural plans to see what that would look like,” he said.

O’Shea said there are no new personnel contracts to negotiate, since teachers have an existing three-year contract. The district is also looking into making the greenhouse manager a full-time position. O’Shea also said the district will need a new athletic director, as the current athletic director has reached the limit on the number of years he can lead the department.

Last year’s $33.2 million school budget, which voters approved in June,  represented an expenditure increase of 4.69 percent, and increased the school portion of the property tax rate to $11.08 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The municipal side of the budget accounted for roughly $11.5 million. Unanticipated state aid, which came after budget discussions concluded, later reduced the tax rate to $11.03 per $1,000 of assessed value.

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.