CAPE ELIZABETH — The municipal budget season begins this month, with town leaders scraping to cut half a million dollars to balance projected spending with declining revenues.
The process will begin Tuesday, Jan. 6, when the Town Council and Finance Committee hold their first workshop of the year.
Town Manager Michael McGovern said he hopes that the next few months of workshops, public hearings and final budget adoption for the fiscal year that begins July 1 will yield no tax increases to fund municipal services.
“We’re dealing with the same problems that local businesses and households are dealing with,” McGovern said. “We need to find ways to move forward.”
Facing projections of a $500,000 shortfall due to decreased excise tax and building permit revenue, among other things, McGovern has prepared a list of suggested cuts for the council to review.
His suggestions include:
• Regionalizing emergency dispatch services.
• Eliminating the facilities manager position, which is currently held by Ernie MacVane.
• Reducing hours at the recycling center.
• Removing 15 percent of neighborhood street lights.
• Reducing Town Hall staffing.
• Eliminating Family Fun Day.
• Eliminating travel to out-of-state conferences.
• Reducing the police captain’s administrative duties so that he or she can take more road shifts. The position is currently held by Capt. Brent Sinclair, who is on unpaid leave after an October drunk driving arrest.
• Reducing legal expenses.
• Reducing activities that recognize town employees and volunteers.
McGovern said that even these suggestions don’t fully meet the $500,000 that must be cut, totalling about $450,000 in savings. This “shows the magnitude” of the budget difficulties facing the town, he said.
Public suggestions about where the town might find savings are being welcomed by the Town Council and School Board, which is also facing budget trouble and expects to be at most flat-funded by the state.
The Town Council begins discussion Jan. 6 at its Finance Committee workshop, which begins at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall. A draft budget is expected from McGovern by March 6 for Finance Committee review that month and public hearings in April.
The School Board will begin budget review at its Feb. 10 meeting, after Superintendent Alan Hawkins has met with administrators and prepared an initial budget document.
Public hearings on the school budget are scheduled for Feb. 12 and 24, and tentatively for Feb. 26. Those hearings will be held at 7 p.m. at the high school library.
The Town Council expects to adopt a municipal budget in May; the School Board has scheduled a May 12 public referendum on the school budget.