Hurdles in early South Portland budget projection

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • 0

SOUTH PORTLAND — The city could face a $1.5 million shortfall under a preliminary municipal budget scenario discussed in a Jan. 10. workshop with city councilors and School Department officials.

City Finance Director Greg L’Heureux said the numbers presented at the workshop are so preliminary he described the meeting as a “casual look” at the budget, adding department heads have not yet submitted their own budgets, which is expected in February.

The city manager’s budget proposal will not be finalized until March.

The numbers presented Wednesday night represent a 2 percent increase in salary and benefits for employees, and the addition of several city staff, including four firefighters, and staff in the planning and recreation departments.

This year’s municipal budget is $34 million. The fiscal 2019 budget could include a 7 percent increase, under the preliminary estimate, although L’Heureux said revenue remains unclear. 

Revenue sharing from the state is projected to be less than the $1.2 million appropriated this year, but will not be known until June, he said. 

Superintendent of Schools Ken Kunin said South Portland will look at several key points to inform work on the 2019 school budget, including an increase in special education needs, maintaining current staffing levels, and needed renovations at two elementary schools.

He said it is important to consider the balance between students’ best interests with what is fiscally responsible. 

In June, the city’s $49 million school budget passed overwhelmingly, by a vote of 905-283. The fiscal 2018 budget had an increase of $1.2 million, or 2.4 percent over the previous year. Kunin will meet with principals later this month to determine needs; the School Board budget vote is slated for March 29. 

Kunin estimated that maintaining staff and service levels could require an additional $1.2 million in spending to meet contractual obligations for staff salary and benefits, which make up 80 percent of total school expenses. He said most of the action in constructing the budget is in analyzing staffing needs. 

Nearly 3,000 students are enrolled in South Portland schools. Kunin said newly enrolled special education students with complex needs, including medical needs, also require a budget increase in the current year and coming year, including out-of-district placements.

“We are currently working to quantify this need for additional services,” he said. 

Capital resources will also be needed to bring the city’s elementary schools up to date. They were last renovated 13 and 25 years ago, Kunin said. 

The superintendent’s budget is scheduled to be presented to the School Board March 12. 

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext., 106 or at