Proposed South Portland budgets address tax, operating goals

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Budget season arrived Tuesday night for city councilors.

A $36.6 million municipal budget and a $52.3 million education budget were introduced to the council by City Manager Scott Morelli and Superintendent of Schools Ken Kunin.

Councilors decided not to take questions and comments on the budgets until a series of public workshops. The first of those comes Saturday, April 13, at City Hall from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The $92 million budgets, including $3 million for the city’s share of Cumberland County operations, increase overall spending by $3.6 million and require $67 million in property tax revenue.

If passed as introduced, the budgets would add 67 cents to the present city tax rate of $18.50 per $1,000 of assessed value. Of that, 43 cents would go for education, 20 cents for municipal operations and 4 cents to Cumberland County.

All proposed budgets, including the capital projects for the city and School Department, can be viewed at https://bit.ly/2YMtYuX.

The education budget went to councilors after it was unanimously approved March 28 by the School Board.

“I hope the council sees the budget in the way we do,” board Chairman Richard Matthews said at that meeting. “It is a responsible budget.”

The overall tax increase of 3.6 percent stays within guidelines established by councilors in January. Morelli and Kunin said the spending also maintains services and addresses goals set by the council and School Board.

Capital improvement plans for education and municipal needs were also introduced. The $16 million plan for city building, vehicle and equipment needs includes a proposed $7 million bond for a new Cash Corner fire station and repairs to other public safety buildings.

Those bonds would not affect the fiscal year 2020 tax rate and are the only borrowing in the municipal CIP. The remaining spending includes $1.26 million of tax increment finance balances, $2.1 million in sewer user fund reserves, and $1.7 million in prior CIP balances.

The municipal CIP includes $100,000 for a Willard Beach master plan and funding for the expansion of high-speed internet service in Knightville.

While education spending increases by 4%, the School Department is also anticipating a $646,000 boost in state Department of Education aid, to $6.8 million.

The amount was provided by the DOE after Kunin’s initial projection anticipated a reduction in state aid to $6 million. He noted Tuesday the exact amount will not be determined until the Legislature approves its biennial budget.

The $814,000 School Department CIP draws from various department accounts, without any borrowing. The largest purchase in the plan is $311,000 for technology, including 90 “smartboard” interactive panels to be used in four elementary schools.

The technology portion of the CIP also continues lease payments on smartboards at Small Elementary School and for iPads used by sixth graders and at South Portland High School.

Additional City Hall budget workshops will be held April 23 and May 7, both at 6:30 p.m. 

Councilors will vote on the education budget May 21, following a public hearing. The referendum on the school budget is June 11, with polls open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Councilors will vote June 18 on the entire budget appropriation.

David Harry can be reached at 780-9092 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.