Scarborough council’s message to manager: Limit tax hike to 3%

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SCARBOROUGH — The Town Council on Wednesday gave staff a 3 percent cap when it comes to potential increases to the tax rate as a result of the fiscal year 2020 municipal budget.

The town’s current tax rate is $16.49 per $1,000 assessed value.

Town Manager Tom Hall said the council has been setting budget goals to help guide the his initial presentation since 2015. Typically, he added, their “aspirational target” is a 3 percent increase or less.

“This is a budget target where we start the conversation,” Chairman Peter Hayes said. “The hope is, the budget comes in around this number, but then the municipal and school side can come in and talk about things that we can’t do around that number and what are things might be worth investing in.”

Hall said he’s planning to deliver a first draft in about five weeks.

Councilors clarified that a 3 percent increase should not include possible revenue increases from the town’s ongoing revaluation, which is conducted to ensure that town assessments reflect current market values.

According to the town website, Scarborough has not had a town-wide revaluation since 2005. Last summer, the town completed a reassessment of all commercial and industrial properties. Now, it’s revaluing residential properties.

Councilors said the revaluation could impact residents’ property tax bills, but how, at this point, is impossible to tell.

“Reval or no reval, I don’t want to see more than a 3 percent increase to the mil rate,” Councilor Jean-Marie Caterina said.

The town approved a $34 million town budget for the current year, which, when combined with the $48.5 million school budget, had a total tax impact of about 1.4 percent. That meant owners of a home valued at $300,000 paid $5,019 in taxes this year, or $72 more than the previous year.

Councilor Shawn Babine expressed frustration with the fact that the council was only now convening to discuss budget goals, while Hall is already well into the drafting process.

“We’re five weeks away from (the) manager suggesting a budget,” he said. “I don’t think it’s valuable to set the budget goal now when it’s coming before us in a few weeks.”

Hayes said it was difficult to get the council all together for a workshop.

“I’ll take complete ownership of it, but the reality is that we are where we are and we’re trying to get to a solution,” he said.

Vice Chairwoman Katy Foley agreed with Hayes, saying she’s never seen it so “difficult and challenging” to schedule the council’s goals workshop.

“That’s nobody’s fault. … It’s just the way life works out sometimes,” she said. “I think it’s never too late to talk about goals or try to get people moving in the same direction.”

Foley did, however, note that she feels budget goals from the outset should be a collaborative process with the Board of Education.

“I’ve always believed in one town, one concept, but I don’t know that we’ve always practiced it,” she said.

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

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