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Scarborough, South Portland budgets may face change

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Scarborough, South Portland budgets may face change

SOUTH PORTLAND  — Voter approval of fiscal year education budgets in the city and Scarborough came Tuesday, but state budget developments in Augusta could cloud local financial pictures in the next few weeks.

The few South Portland voters casting ballots overwhelmingly approved a $43.2 million education budget, 591-189, and also approved three more years of school budget referendum votes, 465-311. The 4 percent voter turnout was about as expected, City Clerk Sue Mooney said.

In Scarborough, the second try for a education budget passed 1,490 to 1,332, while 49 percent of those responding said the $38.8 budget was still too high. In the nonbinding question, 938 said the budget was too low and 496 found it acceptable. The budget was reduced by $54,000 after it was rejected by voters May 14.

The 18 percent voter turnout was the highest seen in Scarborough for a school budget referendum, Town Clerk Tody Justice said, and almost doubled the May 14 turnout where 58 percent of the voters rejected the school budget.

Scarborough property owners will likely see a 7.8 percent increase from the current property tax rate of $13.80 per $1,000 of assessed value to $14.88, to fund the combined education, Cumberland County share and municipal budgets.

In South Portland, the operations portion of the education budget will add 6 cents to the current tax rate of $16.50 per $1,000 of assessed value. On Monday, councilors are expected to vote on the $28.8 million municipal budget. If passed, the municipal budget and city share of Cumberland County operations would also add 6 cents to the tax rate.

The overall property tax rate is expected to increase 30 cents to $16.80, with debt service adding 18 cents. City Manager Jim Gailey and councilors held off on the municipal budget vote to see how the state biennial budget will affect city finances.

A $6.3 billion budget was unanimously approved by the Legislature Appropriations Committee last Friday and is expected to be voted on in the state House and Senate this week.

Drafted in response to the budget introduced by Gov. Paul LePage in January, the Legislature's budget lessens the impact of state revenue sharing reductions with localities proposed by LePage, but would still result in $506,000 less for South Portland and $388,000 less for Scarborough.

Gailey said the shortfall can be covered through increased budgeting for excise taxes and building permit fees, and using an additional $150,000 from reserve funds. The prospect of boosting spending from reserves from $400,000 to $550,000 was not appealing to him.

Gailey said he also found ways to restore spending or increase spending in the operations budget for paving city streets, city membership in the Greater Portland Council of Governments, enhanced city bus service, cost of living wage increases for nonunion city staff and for the city contribution to Visiting Home Health Nurses. The increases would not affect the overall tax rate.

In Scarborough, Hall said he is waiting for the state budget to be enacted before considering how to cope with any reductions. Hall drafted the $28 million municipal budget expecting to lose about $170,000 in vehicle excise revenues for commercial tractor-trailers.

"I want to see what happens in the final analysis," Hall said.

The new state budget could also affect the freshly-passed Scarborough education budget as local school districts could still be required to pay pension obligations now funded by the state.

When councilors approved the school budget May 1, $623,500 was removed. Council Vice Chairman Judy Roy suggesting the School Board remove the potential pension liability of $524,000. It was not part of the budget approved Tuesday.

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