Scarborough Council OKs muni budget, trims school spending

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SCARBOROUGH — Municipal spending for fiscal year 2014 was set Wednesday night when Town Councilors approved a $70.8 million budget by a 6-1 roll call vote.

The final piece of the spending plan, a $40.4 million school budget, now goes to a May 14 referendum. The school budget, including debt service and the nutrition program, and was reduced by $623,500 on an amendment by Council Vice Chairwoman Judith Roy.

If passed, the school budget, combined with the approved municipal and Cumberland County obligations, would lead to a property tax increase of 89 cents, or almost 8 percent, per $1,000 of assessed value, from $13.80 to $14.89.

Councilor Ed Blaise cast the vote opposing the budgets, noting the 3 percent spending increase still contains a tax increase he feared would drive people out of town. Council acceptance came with strongly expressed reservations.

“It’s not a case of being happy, it’s a case of what is necessary,” Councilor James Benedict said. He said he believed Town Manager Tom Hall and School Superintendent George Entwistle III were placed in difficult financial positions by threatened losses of state subsidies and revenue sharing.

“There is nothing they can do about it, certain things have to get paid,” Benedict added.

Councilors do not control education budget line items, but Roy suggested the reduction should come from the expense line covering pension obligations now covered by the state. The biennial budget introduced in January by Gov. Paul LePage proposes shifting pension contributions to local school districts, but Roy said she is seeing indications the idea will not have support in the Legislature.

Entwistle said the revised budget going to voters would eliminate $523,000 counted as an expense for pension obligations and he would also have to cut $100,000 from the rest of the budget.

“I’m not running out to collect my (leadership) team and cut 10 teachers,” he said.

Besides voting on the school budget, voters will be asked whether the referendums should continue for another three years, and a nonbinding question about whether the school budget is too high, too low or at the right amount.

School Board member Chris Caiazzo, the chairman of the board’s finance committee, said he will pay attention to results of the nonbinding question as a basis for how to start the fiscal year 2015 education budget.

“I can respect it, but I don’t necessarily have to agree,” Caiazzo said about the council decision to cut the budget. Entwistle’s initial budget request, excluding the nutrition program and debt service, sought $41.37 million and a 16 percent increase in property tax revenues.

Caiazzo said Entwistle and the School Board used hard data and statistics to show the need to restore school programs, services and infrastructure. He said he expects to use the same approach next year, and to get an earlier start.

The $28.17 million municipal operations budget was pared back Wednesday as councilors agreed to wait half a year to hire four new firefighters, for savings of $44,000. A projected reduction of $43,500 for the Scarborough Public Library was amended to $24,500.

As approved by the council, the $70.8 million in spending achieves an overall goal of 3 percent increases in expenditures, or about $2.2 million. The goal was set at a council workshop in January, with an understanding the state budget deliberations could have an effect on the town’s financial outlook.

The final tax increase will not be determined until late summer, after the annual valuation of properties.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.