Proposed 7% tax hike provokes ire in Scarborough
SCARBOROUGH — Town Manager Tom Hall’s fiscal 2015 budget proposal would fund 13 new jobs and raise the property tax rate nearly 7 percent.
Hall introduced the $84.4 million preliminary budget to the Town Council in a special meeting Wednesday night. The total includes budget needs from the town, the School Department and Cumberland County, and represents an 8.3% increase over this year.
Notable costs include the addition of four firefighters, three police dispatchers for the town’s partnership with Old Orchard Beach, and a school resource officer for Wentworth Intermediate School.
Hall said the positions are part of restoration and investment plans for the town that have been ignored in recent years.
“I don’t expect (all 13 positions) to survive, but it deserves a conversation,” he said.
“I think it might be helpful just to appreciate why these additions are being asked for,” he later added.
The budget calls for a property tax increase of 6.7 percent, to $15.76 per $1,000 of assessed value, from the current rate of $14.77. According to Hall, for residents with a median home value of $300,000, the 99-cent increase would result in about $300 more in property taxes annually.
“I don’t deliver that number with a smile on my face,” he said, admitting that consistent tax increases over the past few years have the town on a path that is “likely not sustainable (in the) long term.”
Council Chairman Richard Sullivan was absent, but several other councilors expressed disappointment at an almost 10 percent increase in spending initially requested by the School Department, which accounts for most of the suggested property tax rate increase.
Councilor Jessica Holbrook said on several occasions throughout the presentation that councilors will have their work cut out for them.
“It’s safe to say that this doesn’t gather the support of the council,” she said in reference to the proposed school budget increase. “At least we know what we’re not going to do, if nothing else.”
Councilor James Benedict said his phone “rang off the wall” this week with residents threatening to move because of rising property taxes.
“At this point, I don’t think the school side of the budget is fair and reasonable, given what we’re talking about people having to pay for it,” he said. “I don’t know whether we need an eraser or a red marker, but we need to do something.”
The budget will go to a first reading on April 2, then to a public hearing and workshop before a final reading set for May 7.
Throughout April the proposal will go through a series of morning meetings with the finance committee, before a referendum on the budget, which is set for May 13.