For a change, Yarmouth tax rate may go down

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YARMOUTH — Residents could see the property tax rate decrease by about 1.5 percent in fiscal 2015, the first property tax reduction in decades.

But for many residents, those savings will be at least partially offset by the enactment in recent months of sewer and transfer station fees.

At a special meeting and public hearing on April 10, the Town Council presented a combined municipal and education draft budget of over $33.5 million, including a reduced tax rate of $21.67 per $1,000 assessed value.

Town Manager Nat Tupper said this would be the first time in his 22 years on the job that the property tax rate has gone down.

The draft budget includes $50,000 in revenue from the transfer station fee and $800,000 from the sewer fee, although the town hopes the sewer fee will generate $1 million this year.

An expected increase in state aid to education, strong excise tax collections, and savings on ecomaine trash fees will also help reduce property taxes, according to Thursday’s budget presentation.

“It is a concerted effort to create this tax stabilization which I think, long-term, will bear fruit for Yarmouth, for its economic development, and for the residents,” Town Councilor Pat Thompson said. “I think this town is on the forefront of making real inroads in showing how good government can operate.”

Tim Wheaton, vice chairman of the School Committee, presented a revised education budget with a spending increase of 1.8 percent, down from the 2.17-percent increase he presented at a March 27 council meeting. 

The difference came as the result of a change in financing strategy for a new school bus.

The School Committee members took the hint of the Town Council and agreed to take out a loan to pay for a new bus, rather than purchasing it outright, as they had hoped to do. That will save money in the short term, though it may add $7,500 to the total cost of the bus, which sells for about $100,000.

Wheaton said the new school bus will replace a 17-year-old bus that is not expected to pass inspection.

The school budget’s 1.8-percent increase is less than that of some similar communities, including Cape Elizabeth (3 percent), Portland (4 percent), Falmouth (5.3 percent) and Scarborough (8.5 percent), Wheaton said.

He cited a lack of new programs, the elimination of two staff positions, expanded outsourcing of custodial services, greater employee contributions to health insurance costs, and decreased funding for technology and furniture as reasons for the modesty of the budget increase.

Wheaton called the budget a “maintenance budget” and said, “If you’re a parent or student, you really shouldn’t see an increase in your educational experience.”

Nearly 80 percent of the roughly $21.2 million education budget will go to employee salaries and benefits.

The combined draft budget for fiscal 2015 shows a 2.57-percent increase over the current year’s total of about $32.7 million.

A small increase in the town’s property tax base is also expected, Tupper said.

The council unanimously accepted the budget proposals and advanced them to a final public hearing scheduled for May 1. It is expected to formally adopt the budgets at that meeting.

At the annual Town Meeting on June 3, the council will take a final vote on the municipal budget. Residents will vote on the school budget in a referendum on June 10.

Brendan Twist can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter:@brendantwist.