Scarborough budget, 3.3% tax hike, sail over 1st hurdle

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SCARBOROUGH — For a town where the budget process in recent years has been acrimonious, the Town Council’s first reading of the fiscal 2017 budget Wednesday night was surprisingly uneventful.

Budgets presented at the April 6 meeting by Town Manager Tom Hall and Superintendent of Schools George Entwistle III were approved unanimously by councilors. 

One councilor called the atmosphere “a remarkable change.”

A town hall-style budget forum is scheduled for Wednesday, April 27, in the Scarborough High School auditorium. Residents can submit questions to the town staff on the scarboroughmaine.org website.

The total $81.7 million municipal and school budget proposal is up $3.5 million from the current budget of $78.2 million, or 4.4 percent.

Approximately $60.4 million would fall to taxpayers, compared to $58 million this fiscal year. Residents would see a 3.3 percent increase in the tax rate, or $16 per $1,000 valuation – up 51 cents from this year’s mil rate of $15.49, or a 2.58 percent increase.

For the owner of a home valued at $300,000, the annual property tax bill would show an increase of $153. 

During his presentation, Hall noted that because property values continue to climb, the town is well on its way to “minimum receiver status,” when it comes to general purpose education aid from the state.

“Some might say it’s a cynical way of looking at it, but it’s the reality,” he said. Anticipating that Scarborough will hit that mark in a few years, the significant upshot will be the loss of “volatility” year to year in funding from the state. 

Voters last year rejected proposed school budgets twice at the polls before approving a school budget on the third try.  

Entwistle specified that his $47.5 million budget, up from this year’s $45.2 million school budget, is not a “pie-in-the-sky budget,” but a “mission-critical budget,” which includes no additions, but will allow the School Department to retain “exactly” the same services, despite a more-than $1 million cut in general purpose state education aid. 

In total, the district expects to receive 22.7 percent less funding this year from the state.

Approximately $39.7 million of the proposed school budget would fall to taxpayers, which translates to a 5.5 percent tax increase.

Michael Turek, of Bayberry Lane, one of two members of the public who commented on the budget, commended staffers on the budget materials provided. “This is the first year that I’ve been to this type of meeting and understood it,” he said. 

Councilor Chris Caiazzo praised the proposed budget as “very respectful and reasonable,” in spite of the significant cut in funding from the state. 

“I feel like both sides of the table are hearing each other,” Councilor Kate St. Clair said. 

Compared with the tone a year ago, Councilor Peter Hayes noted, “what a remarkable change.” 

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or aacquisto@theforecaster.net. Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

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South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.