Scarborough council approves $69M budget, sends school spending to voters

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SCARBOROUGH — Despite an eleventh-hour effort to trim the budget by $300,000, town councilors on Wednesday approved a $69 million spending plan for fiscal 2013.

The budget includes a $1.84 million reduction recommended by the Finance Committee. About $49.9 million must be raised by taxes, a 7.3 percent increase over the current year.

That means the average Scarborough taxpayer will pay about $162 more in taxes than this year – a 90-cent increase on the property-tax rate, raising the rate from $13.03 per $1,000 of assessed value to $13.93.

“I think the adjustments upward, although difficult for some, are important for maintaining the integrity of our roads, the integrity of our schools, of our Police Department and Fire Department,” said Councilor Judith Roy, who leads Finance Committee.

Councilors for the most part echoed Roy. They were unhappy to see taxes increase as much as they would under this budget, but felt they had little to no choice.

Revenue from federal stimulus dollars for education will drop sharply in the coming year, leaving Scarborough to plan for what Town Manager Tom Hall has characterized as a “correction year.”

As is the case every year, the lion’s share of the tax need is driven by school spending, which accounts for $37.4 million. That’s about $1.8 million less than Superintendent George Entwistle III’s original March proposal.

Because the School Department spends the most money of all town budget areas, it’s also the biggest target for potential cuts. 

Councilor Jessica Holbrook proposed an amendment to reduce the school budget by $300,000.

Holbrook suggested that additional savings could be found in spending on extracurricular activities, maintenance to the soon-to-be demolished Wentworth Intermediate School and other budget lines. But she had support only from Councilor James Benedict.

Council Chairman Ronald Ahlquist told Holbrook that if she wanted to take a scalpel to the school budget, she could have done so during the several committee meetings to trim the budget. 

“You were on the Finance Committee,” he said. “It’s unfortunate you didn’t bring this up sooner.”

The municipal share of the budget, $23 million, is now set.

But Scarborough residents will be vote on the school budget in a May 15 referendum. For the first time, they’ll also have the option to deem the budget as “too high,” “acceptable” or “too low.”

“Everybody out there has an opportunity to say their piece on the school budget,” Councilor Richard Sullivan said. “I encourage everybody, whether you’re for it or against it, to get out there and vote.”

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or mmoretto@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.

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Pesticide vote faces further scrutiny

SCARBOROUGH — More questions were raised Wednesday about a contentious vote on Councilor Richard Sullivan’s proposal to replace the town’s organic pest management policy with a traditional plan. 

On April 18, his proposal appeared to have been defeated, despite a 3-0 vote in its favor, because council rules that stipulate four “yes” votes are needed for an action to be approved.

Councilors James Benedict, Jessica Holbrook and Judith Roy supported his policy. Sullivan was recused, and Councilors Carol Rancourt and Karen D’Andrea “abstained,” which was later determined to be a violation of council rules.

On Wednesday, Sullivan won a motion to amend the April 18 minutes to show that no vote on his policy had actually taken place. 

The events leading to that decision are fuzzy. During the April meeting, after a long period of heated debate, Holbrook asked the council to vote. The council voted 3-0, and the issue was put to rest. 

But Sullivan and Ahlquist questioned whether a vote had actually happened, or whether the council had simply voted on a motion to end debate, a parliamentary move called “moving the question.”

While councilors unanimously said they thought they were voting on Sullivan’s proposal, in retrospect, many decided they were simply voting to end debate. 

On Wednesday, councilors approved Sullivan’s amendment to the minutes, over Rancourt’s opposition, which could pave the way for another vote on the pesticide proposal. 

Ahlquist has said he’d asked the town attorney to review April meeting to determine what will happen next.

— Mario Moretto

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