No joke: Scarborough budget proposes 8.5% tax hike

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SCARBOROUGH — The combined school and municipal budget includes increases in expenditures – nearly 4 percent on the municipal side and 7.65 percent for the School Department – and would require an average annual tax increase of approximately $383.

The total proposed operating budget for the town is approximately $30.4 million. The School Department’s proposed operating budget is just over $47 million, and the capital improvement budget is $1.5 million. 

The budget requires nearly $60.9 million to be raised through property taxes, Town Manager Tom Hall said Wednesday during the Town Council’s first reading of the proposed fiscal 2016 spending plan.

Assuming a $15 million increase in next year’s total value, Hall said, “this results in a projected mil rate of $16.38 per $1,000 (of valuation), resulting in an 8.46 percent increase in the tax rate.”

Resident Susan Hamill told the council, “It’s April 1, and hopefully (the projected tax rate) is an April Fool’s joke.”

Compounding factors in the total projected budget increase, Hall said, include a reduction of about $1 million for the district in  general purpose aid, a 21 percent decrease from this year. 

Other added expenditures, such as the proposed high-priority adoption of so-called one-to-one technology at Scarborough High School, would cost an additional $866,000. 

“You’re killing me. It’s killing me, another $383,” resident Mo Erickson told the council. “I urge you to just say no.”

But resident Drew Stevens told councilors “we can’t keep cutting every year and saying do more with less. Investments in our schools and our children is the best investment we can make.”

Most councilors agreed the proposed increases are too large to approve.

Councilor Kate St. Clair said she was torn. “As a citizen, I want to give everything I can to teachers,” she said. “But then I flip back to being a councilor.”

St. Clair said she would not support the budget that was presented Monday night. “Your business is to be concerned about the students,” said in response to speakers who advocated for the school budget. “My position is to be concerned about the students and everyone else in our town.”

Councilor Ed Blaise called the 8.46 percent increase “outrageous,” and said he “can’t support that.” 

The council voted 5-2 to move the budget to a second reading on May 20, with St. Clair and Councilor Peter Hayes dissenting. In between, the Finance Committee will meet four times to negotiate a budget councilors can accept.

A joint council-School Board meeting will be held May 13.

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.