s-cebudget-010909 Cape budget: Nickels, dimes won't cut it (drop) 'One-town concept' to steer spending talks

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CAPE ELIZABETH — School and town officials Tuesday agreed to work more collaboratively to reduce both budgets, citing the “one-town concept” as a way to weather the economy.
The town has said it needs to remove at least $500,000 in expenses or services in order to balance next year’s municipal budget with anticipated revenues; the school system expects a cut of more than $400,000 from next year’s state subsidy, on top of rising costs for contracted employee salaries and benefits.
Those figures do not include the $421,000 the governor has ordered cut from this year’s school budget. Final information on that cut and next year’s subsidy decreases will be made by the Legislature.
The School Department, which has a contingency fund of only $70,000, froze its budget in December and hopes the Town Council will transfer up to $200,000 from its undesignated funds to help the schools make up for the subsidy loss. The council will make that decision next week.
Councilors and School Board members met Tuesday in a joint workshop of the School Board, Town Council and Town Council Finance Committee. It was their first meeting dedicated to the creation of next year’s budgets.
Town Manager Mike McGovern has already outlined more than $400,000 of potential cuts to the municipal budget, which include removing 15 percent of street lights in neighborhoods and cutting the full-time position of the facilities manager down to a half-time contracted position.
McGovern has also suggested regionalizing emergency dispatch. Cape Elizabeth is among the few Cumberland County towns that have not yet moved from local dispatch to the county’s regional system, which is based in Windham.
Some councilors said they were nervous to even talk about that prospect, since they said a promise was made to dispatchers last year that their jobs wouldn’t be scrutinized for at least three years.
Other councilors said that the nature of the economy will require difficult cuts, many of which will make citizens and town employees unhappy.
Asked whether smaller cuts could be made across the board, rather than big cuts to certain services, McGovern said, “nickle and diming gets you nickles and dimes, not tens of thousands of dollars.”
Councilors asked McGovern to continue searching for cuts, aiming for no tax increases to fund the municipal budget.
Superintendent Alan Hawkins said his goal is at most a 2 percent increase in the school budget, necessary, he said, to cover rising costs while maintaining a quality school system. Hawkins has not yet outlined potential cuts, though he and others have said that the only way to find enough savings is to eliminate jobs.
“There is no other place to cut than salaries and benefits,” School Board member Kathy Ray said. “You can take away all the pencils you want.”
If the municipal budget sees no increase and the school budget rises 2 percent, property taxes would have to increase by about 2.5 percent, according to McGovern and the Finance Committee chairwoman, Councilor Anne Swift-Kayatta.
Though both the school and town will need to make distinct cuts in order to acheive their current budget goals, some officials expressed the need to work more collaboratively than ever before in finding joint savings.
School Board Chairwoman Trish Brigham suggested that both could look at combining some library services, allowing the school and town libraries to maintain adequate levels of service, while finding savings and efficiency.
Both the town and schools are hoping to make cuts only where those services can be met in another way for citizens – the switch to regional dispatch being a prime example.
A public budget forum has been scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 21 at Town Hall to get citizen feedback, ideas and suggestions.
“Everybody needs all the ideas they can get,” Swift-Kayatta said.

Sarah Trent can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 108 or strent@theforecaster.net.

CAPE ELIZABETH — The Town Council Finance Committee voted Tuesday to recommend that the council abandon the Town Center intersection project at Shore,
Scott Dyer and Ocean House roads.
Funding for the project, which has already been approved and
borrowed as part of a 2008 bond issue, will be better spent maintaining
current infrastructure, according to Town Manager Michael McGovern. He said the funds should be used to repave sections of the
school parking lots and portions of Route 77, which are unlikely to be
paved by the state.
McGovern also recommended that a portion of the intersection project –
a sidewalk from the high school entrance to Fowler Road – continue as
The Town Council is expected to vote on the recommendation at its meeting on Monday, Jan. 12.