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Scarborough budget heads to final council vote

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Scarborough budget heads to final council vote

SCARBOROUGH — The final iteration of the fiscal year 2013 budget totals about $1.84 million less than the original March proposal.

The Finance Committee and School Board have been slicing away at the budget for the past month, resulting in a new net budget – the amount that will have to be raised by taxes – of about $49.9 million.

That's less than the nearly $51.8 million proposed by Town Manager Tom Hall in March, but still amounts to a 7.33 percent increase over fiscal 2012.

The budget cuts will save the average Scarborough taxpayer about $162 in property taxes compared to the original plan, although residents would still see a 90-cent increase in the property tax rate, from $13.03 per $1,000 of property value to $13.93 per $1,000.

The bulk of savings came from the School Department, which removed $1.8 million from its original tax request by cutting a proposed 9.86 percent budget hike down to a 4.96 percent increase. 

Much of the savings come from favorable market adjustments, such as health-care costs and debt service coming in lower than expected. But the School Board also delayed some spending, including buying a new school bus, funding an additional kindergarten-grade 2 teaching position, and holding athletic spending steady.

While the $37.3 million education budget, approved by the School Board on Tuesday, is up only 4.92 percent, or nearly $1.8 million over this year, the expected tax need is up nearly 10 percent.

Superintendent of Schools George Entwistle III said that's because of a $1.1 million revenue loss from the expiration of federal stimulus money. That loss accounts for about 4 percent of the increase, he said. 

The good news, according to Entwistle, is that it's a temporary correction. He said he doesn't expect the increase to be as stark after this "correction year."

"There was essentially a cliff built in, and we don't expect to experience it again," he said.

Despite the sizable increase, residents at an April 11 public forum overwhelmingly supported the education budget. The Town Council, too, seemed pleased Wednesday night.

Several councilors praised Entwistle and the School Board for coming down from the original proposal and thanked municipal department heads for doing what they could to flat-line their budgets.

"This looks like a very reasonable budget," Councilor Carol Rancourt said, even though "it's always painful when there are tax increases that perhaps we wouldn't like to see."

The council will hold a final vote on the complete budget on May 2. If it is approved, the school's portion will go to a public referendum on May 15. 

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or mmoretto@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.