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Council condemns proposed state budget

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Council condemns proposed state budget

SCARBOROUGH — Scarborough councilors joined the chorus of municipal discontent Wednesday night as they unanimously passed a resolution condemning current state budget proposals and asking legislators to pass a bill creating local option sales taxes.

The resolution targets the proposed biennial budget presented by Gov. Paul LePage, which proposes suspending revenue sharing of income and sales taxes, shifting a percentage of excise taxes paid on commercial tractor-trailers, eliminating the Homestead Exemption for homeowners under age 65, and exempting some business equipment from property taxes.

On the municipal side, the shift in financial burden is estimated to add almost 5.4 percent to property tax bills for fiscal year 2014.

With Town Manager Tom Hall absent, Council Vice Chairman Judith Roy said his work and the deliberations of the council finance committee have not been pleasant.

“Even if it's half of that, we are going to see a tax increase we don't want to see,” Roy said.

School Board member Jackie Perry noted the state budget could also result in a $951,000 in school aid reduction, coupled with a new $517,000 obligation to pay teacher pension contributions once funded by the state. Perry said the state will reimburse some of the pension contributions, but because Scarborough is on the low end of state education aid disbursements by percentage, the department will also be on the low end of pension reimbursements.

In support of the resolution, Scarborough Dems Chairwoman Rachel Hendrickson said 13 municipalities (including South Portland) have passed resolutions opposing LePage's proposed budget.

Unanimous in supporting the resolution, councilors also signaled there will not be a reconsideration of the approved zoning change allowing the possibility of a 31-unit apartment complex near Dunstan Corner.

Roy and Councilor James Benedict responded at the end of the meeting to comments from Orchard Street-area residents abutting the rezoned Griffin Road property, who said councilors acted too quickly to approve rezoning and discounted Planning Board opposition to rthe zone change from rural designations to town village.

Opponents including Katie Fellows and Nate Gobeil said the potential development could harm residential property values. But Roy and Benedict countered that the proposed apartments will provide affordable housing for younger residents who cannot afford to buy homes.

Roy also told opponents the Planning Board resistance to the zone change should signal a very deliberate site plan approval process for developers St. Clair Associates and Risbara Proerties.

Public hearings for the creation of a light industrial zone in a triangular area bordered by Holmes and Two Rod roads and the Maine Turnpike drew no comment. The zone initiative will get second reading and a vote on March 20.

Town Planner Dan Bacon gave a brief description of the changes in the area of Beech Ridge Motor Speedway and the former town landfill to light industrial use while keeping agricultural use for Two Rod Road properties. Any properties used for light industrial purposes need direct access to Holmes Road to accommodate truck traffic.

The zoning and map changes will also be discussed Monday, March 11, at a Planning Board public hearing. 

A second reading and vote on the contract zone agreement with New England Expeditions on the Gateway Square developments removed the requirement that 100,000 square feet of leasable office space be constructed by March 12. The developers sought and obtained the contract amendment because market conditions have not improved enough to attract businesses to the site.

More than 90 acres of working farmland will be conserved in perpetuity as councilors approved spending $270,000 to buy conservation rights at Comstock Farm on Berry Road.

The money comes from a $1.6 million town fund for land acquisition and allows Chris Comstock to take over farm operations from his parents, Carlton and Ann Comstock.

Councilors also approved appointing Assistant Assessor Susan Russo as interim assessor to replace Paul Lesperance. Lesperance is retiring this month, but will stay on in a special appointment to oversee pending tax abatement proceedings.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.