Falmouth School Board to decide how aid windfall is used

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • 0

FALMOUTH — The Town Council on Monday continued its conversation on how unanticipated education funding from the state should best be used.

Councilors didn’t take action, and acknowledged that use of the nearly $522,000 falls under the jurisdiction of the School Board.

The council also unanimously approved a plan for a single-story, 500-square-foot building addition at Family Ice Center to be used for a girls locker room.

The finance committees of both the council and School Board first met July 21 to discuss how to use the unanticipated funding from the state. The council also discussed the windfall during its annual retreat on July 23.

The School Board originally proposed putting the entire sum in its unassigned fund balance and capital reserve, because in past years the board has used the unassigned fund balance to reduce the mil rate.

A memo outlining the board’s proposal called this an “unsustainable” practice, which reduced the balance to $595,000 in June. The School Department’s capital reserve is empty, too.

The School Board had proposed replenishing the unassigned fund balance to 3 percent of the overall budget, which is nearly $33.2 million, and putting the rest in the capital reserve. The unassigned fund balance would be available for projects in the next school year, and the capital reserve is for specific projects, of which there currently are none.

Councilors, however, continued to express reservations about none of the new funding being used to reduce property taxes.

Vice Chairman Russell Anderson called for putting $150,000 into unassigned funds, which is what the board used in the recent budget cycle for mil rate reduction, and allocating the remainder for tax relief.

“I would recommend … we do our best to deploy those funds how we would have in the budget process … had it been available to us back then,” Anderson said.

At the July 21 joint meeting, Councilor Karen Farber, who was absent from Monday night’s meeting, floated an idea of using $110,000 of the funds to reduce the mil rate by 5 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

Chairman David Goldberg said he would be comfortable with whatever decision the School Board makes.

“I believe the School Board should do whatever they believe is right for the schools and by extension the town of Falmouth,” Goldberg said.

On June 9, voters overwhelmingly supported the nearly $33.2 million school budget, by a margin of roughly 4-1. That budget 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.

If all the additional state revenue were put towards reducing the mil rate, it would decline by 24 cents, to $10.84 per $1,000 of assessed value. For every $100,000 of assessed value, taxes would decline from $64 to $40.

Falmouth’s discussion on additional funding is not unique. South Portland’s City Council on July 20 decided to use more than half of a more than $880,000 adjustment to reduce property taxes nearly 2 percent, to an increase of 1.8 percent over fiscal 2015.

There is no timetable for the School Board to make a decision. Its next meeting is on Aug. 24 at the elementary school.

Family Ice addition

Members of several booster organizations asked councilors to approve an addition to be built at the rear of Family Ice at 20 Hat Trick Drive.

The 500-square-foot, single-story addition would provide a girls locker room, according to Dan Roberts of the Greely High School Hockey Boosters.

“We’re coming together to add one room,” Roberts said, with another goal of rehabbing all the other girls locker rooms. He said when Family Ice was first built, girls hockey was not a sanctioned sport. The locker room would accommodate approximately 20 people.

The boosters are trying to bypass a full site plan review, which Roberts said would have been a much more costly process. The new locker room would be smaller than the boys locker room, but Roberts said it would be “comparable” to other high school locker rooms.

“Something is better than nothing,” he said.

Councilors were apprehensive at first, since the locker room would be smaller than the one for the boys, but ultimately supported it.

The addition would not inhibit current parking. No timetable for construction was discussed.

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

Sidebar Elements

The Town Council on Monday night continued its discussion on how to best use unanticipated state funding for education. But the decision will ultimately fall to the School Board.

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.