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Combined budgets draw heat in Scarborough

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Combined budgets draw heat in Scarborough

SCARBOROUGH — Though it's still a work in progress, a combined $71.8 million municipal, school and county budget for fiscal year 2014 elicited 30 minutes of pointed criticism Wednesday night.

“It's absurd, just crazy. What was the emergency we didn't plan for?” asked Susan Hamill of Shady Creek Lane after a 20-minute presentation by Town Manager Tom Hall.

Hall detailed a potential $1.40 increase in the property tax rate, to $15.20 per $1,000 of assessed value. The projected rate would add $420 in property taxes for a home valued at $300,000.

The public hearing was the first on the budget combining education spending, municipal operations, bonding for capital improvements and the town share of Cumberland County operations.

All budget areas attracted criticism, but the proposed $41.2 million school budget from Superintendent George Entwistle III drew a sharp rebuke from David Green of Beech Ridge Road.

"I can only ask council to reject the  school budget," Green said. "The sad fact is my wages don't go up."

The School Department faces a possible $1.6 million loss in state subsidy and new obligations to pay staff pensions now paid by the state, and contains a possible 16 percent spending increase. The budget would be funded with a $5.1 million increase in property tax revenues to $37.1 million.

The nearly $28.2 million municipal budget would increase spending by 1.6 percent and require a 36-cent hike in the tax rate to $4.74 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Former School Board Chairman Bob Mitchell criticized $3.6 million in borrowing for capital improvements because, he said, it is for spending in areas that should be covered by the operations budget.

Mitchell said the accumulation of debt for smaller projects could hurt future bonding for larger-scale projects, including a potential public safety facility.

"We're going to be in the same boat the state is in,” he warned, adding the town should be planning for a near-term future of flat inflation and wage increases, too.

The current budget required a property tax increase of 77 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to $13.80, including a 68-cent increase for education spending. The cumulative effect of two consecutive years of increases troubled Evergreen Farms Road resident Barry Jenkins.

"You start adding the little pieces together, you get a lot more money coming from me for the benefit of others, which I don't think is right,” Jenkins said.

Hall alluded to possible school budget revisions that would reduce spending by $1.34 million. But School Department Finance Director Kate Bolton said any proposed reductions are still being discussed and will not be presented until an April 22 workshop.

The hearing was scheduled to be followed by a joint workshop Thursday with members of the Town Council and School Board finance committees. The last Town Council Finance Committee meeting on the municipal budget will be at 8 a.m. next Tuesday.

A second reading and School Board vote on the education budget is scheduled for April 22. Town Councilors will give the combined budgets a second reading and vote May 1. Councilors can turn down the school budget, but have no control over line-item spending.

The voter referendum on the school budget is scheduled for May 14.

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