Scarborough draft budget calls for 12.7% tax hike

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SCARBOROUGH — Town Manager Tom Hall drew praise from town councilors for fiscal restraint Wednesday night as he introduced a proposed fiscal year 2014 town budget that limits spending increases to 1.8 percent and a possible property tax increase to 8.14 percent.

His references to the school budget introduced by School Superintendent George Entwistle III last week were less well received.

“I’m disappointed. They are going to have to do better,” Town Council Chairman Ron Ahlquist said about the initial education budget, which proposes spending increases of 16.8 percent funded largely through a 10.6 percent increase in property taxes.

Taken as a whole, with the town share of Cumberland County operations added in, the preliminary budget outlined by Hall requires a 12.7 percent property tax increase from the current $13.80 per $1,000 of assessed value, to $15.55.

Hall said the net effect on a property assessed at $300,000 would be a $525 annual tax increase.

As Entwistle noted last week, Hall also reminded councilors the draft is a starting point, with plenty of discussion expected between now and a final reading and council vote on May 1.

Councilors Richard Sullivan and James Benedict followed Ahlquist in opposition to the potential tax increase. Councilors have no control over school budget line items, but will vote to accept or reject the total school spending plan before it goes to a May 14 referendum.

Hall drafted his nearly $28.3 million municipal budget on the assumption potential revenue reductions in the biennial state budget proposed in January by Gov. Paul LePage will result only in the shift of excise taxes on commercial vehicles.

Hall expects a reduction of $170,000 in excise tax revenues and said he thinks the  shift may be approved because it will be felt in far fewer communities than LePage’s proposed suspension of revenue sharing of income and sales taxes.

As initially proposed, the municipal side of the budget would increase property taxes by 36 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, with $17.26 million coming from property tax revenues. The current municipal share of the town tax rate of $13.80 is $4.38 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Hall’s initial budget is also based on an anticipated increase of $15 million in property values, to $3.64 billion. The final valuation will not be known until mid-summer.

The share for Cumberland County operations will increase from $2.07 million to $2.19 million. Hall said he has no say in how the share is determined by Cumberland County commissioners.

“They just send us a bill,” the town manager said.

Hall’s budget adds several positions, including funding for four new firefighters, a new dispatcher, a new commercial code enforcement officer, and a webmaster, who will be shared with the School Department.

Non-union municipal employees would receive a 2.5 percent pay increase, and the overall Public Works budget would be reduced by 2.2 percent, or $145,700. Hall said the reduction is attributable to efforts by Public Works Director Mike Shaw to reduce expenses and work more efficiently.

The municipal budget will be reviewed by the finance committee, led by Councilor Judith Roy, in a series of 8 a.m. public workshops beginning Tuesday, March 26, at Town Hall. Workshops are scheduled for April 2, April 9, and tentatively April 16.

Councilors will also hear a first reading of the budget at 7 p.m. on April 3, with a public hearing April 10 at 7 p.m. and a council workshop on April 24.

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.