Falmouth Town Council approves $40M budget, 50-cent tax-rate hike

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FALMOUTH — The Town Council, with little discussion on Monday, approved a $29 million school budget and $11 million municipal budget.

The council voted unanimously in support of the combined $40 million budget for fiscal 2013. Councilors Fred Chase and Chris Orestis were not at the meeting.

Chairwoman Teresa Pierce said the council will vote May 14 to send the school budget to a June 12 validation referendum.

The $29 million school budget is an increase of$2.8 million, or 10.8 percent, from the current budget. If approved by voters on June 12, 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.

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 need.

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

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 Town Manager Nathan 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.

Councilor Tony Payne said he wanted to acknowledge a phone call he and other councilors received from a resident who said the tax increase creates a hardship for her. During what he described as a “heartfelt” conversation, the woman suggested relief be given to senior citizens, Payne said.

“By being here we all share the burden for educating our kids,” he said, adding it isn’t fair to carve out one part of the citizenry for relief when the entire town should share the burden.

Council Vice Chairwoman Faith Varney said she received the same phone call and agreed with Payne’s comments.

“It’s very, very difficult, but we need to support our children,” she said.

Councilor Will Armitage said he isn’t happy with the school budget, but would support it.

“My frustration has been that on the municipal side we balanced the budget,” he said.

Pierce said Chase wanted to use money from the undesignated fund balance to offset the tax increase, a suggestion that did not have the support of other councilors.

“We could do it this year, but next  year we’d have to bite the bullet and take the increase,” Varney said.

In other business, councilors tabled a proposal to adopt a zoning amendment to create a new Water View Overlay District in the Foreside and Flats neighborhoods. If approved, all single-family home expansion projects in the district would need a conditional use permit and have to prove the project would not adversely impact neighbors’ water views.

The overlay district includes the area from the Martin’s Point bridge to the Cumberland town line east of Route 88. If the order is approved, it would exempt the majority of homeowners in areas away from the water from the conditional use permit requirement, Payne said.

The action was tabled to allow the Community Development Committee to review the plan before it is again considered by the council on May 14.

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