'Realistic' budget a top priority for Scarborough councilors

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SCARBOROUGH — Among their goals for the coming year, town councilors hope to pass a “realistic” budget, explore alternative ways to provide essential services and reassess the town’s approach to economic development.

A council workshop on Wednesday was devoted to brainstorming goals for 2012 and selecting the top 10 ideas. Town Manager Tom Hall said he will present the goals to the council for formal adoption.

Discussion centered on ways to provide residents with a realistic budget for fiscal year 2013, while maintaining services and avoiding staff reductions.

Councilor Carol Rancourt said she would like the 3.6 percent Consumer Price Index to be the cap for any budget increases. Councilor Jessica Holbrook took it further and requested no change in the tax rate. 

“This is my third budget now and it is (an increase of) 3 percent every year,” Holbrook said. “We can’t keep swallowing that and shoveling that on people.”

But Hall said the 3 percent increase, at least in the last two years, was not caused by increased expenses, but by a loss of revenue. He said the council could expect $1.3 million less in federal and stimulus money, plus any additional reductions passed on by the state. 

“Even if we flat fund (the budget) on the expenditure side, we still have an impact to the taxpayer,” he said. “I suggest we focus on what we have control over, which is how much we spend. I say we say we flat fund appropriations with an expectation that the tax rate not exceed the CPI.”

Another goal is to find alternative ways to deliver services and to combine or share positions between the schools and the town. While a purchasing agent and technology and energy positions are already shared, Rancourt suggested emergency dispatch services and employee benefits as other areas where there could be savings.

The third most supported goal was the desire to reassess the approach to economic development.

Councilor Karen D’Andrea offered several suggestions to boost economic development: encouraging green industry business growth, utilizing natural resources to encourage a tourist industry, and reassessing what economic growth means for Scarborough.

“Economic development has changed in the past 10, 15, 25 years,” she said. “In defining (what economic development means) we need to look at (the Scarborough Economic Development Corp.) as well. SEDCO is operating in an old-school mode of economic development and I think we need to look at how economic development has changed and is currently changing.”

Promoting sustainable business opportunities is another goal supported by councilors, who plan to review business-related ordinances. Hall said that would help to change the reputation of the business climate in Scarborough.

“This whole business climate and reputation is a big barrier we need to deal with,” he said. “It may mean we need to go back and change some of our ordinances, it may mean we need to look at our zoning.”

Other goals include reviewing the public transit system, committee mission statements, and fees and licences. Councilors said they also want to act on the recommendations of the Oak Hill pedestrian study and take inventories of historical buildings and town-owned properties.

Amy Anderson can be reached by aanderson@theforecaster.net or 781-3661 ext. 110. Follow her on Twitter: @amy_k_anderson.

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