Scarborough eyes nearly $250K in school budget cuts

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SCARBOROUGH — The Town Council approved the initial reading of a new school budget Wednesday that targets nearly $250,000 in reductions, while continuing to grapple with how voters will react to the spending plan.

Residents rejected a $47 million budget June 13, with 57 percent of voters opposed. It was the sixth time since 2013 that voters sent a school budget back, and means the existing school budget will temporarily remain in effect when the 2018 fiscal year begins July 1.

Also Wednesday, councilors passed new fireworks ordinances that, among other things, will reduce the number of days residents may use fireworks. But the new rules will not go into effect for 30 days, after the three-day period around the Fourth of July.

During the 3 1/2-hour meeting that was mostly devoted to the budget, councilors set July 25 for the next school budget validation referendum. A council workshop is scheduled for June 28 at 6 p.m., followed by a public hearing at 7 p.m. Councilors also set the second reading of the new budget for July 5.

The budget now on the table would reduce municipal spending by $307,000, including $246,000 from the School Department.

Councilors said they are frustrated because they thought they had a good budget that would have kept the increase in property taxes to about 3.5 percent, despite an increase in tax revenue to the schools of about 7.4 percent.

Town officials have now whittled the overall tax increase to about 3 percent.

“Wherever we land, I want it to pass,” Councilor Katy Foley said. “… I don’t want to go through this three times like we did in 2015. … I think we heard from the voters that a significant cut is needed.”

Councilor Chris Caiazzo, however, warned that the pendulum could swing the other way, with pro-school voters opposing the budget, if too many cuts are made.

School revenues are expected to be down 17.42 percent, primarily due to an anticipated $1.4 million loss in state subsidy, although the town still doesn’t have a specific amount from the state.

As of Wednesday evening, lawmakers in Augusta were still negotiating over the budget, with education funding one of the major points of contention between Republicans and Democrats.

Council Chairman Shawn Babine encouraged residents to reach out to their state representative to encourage them to increase funding for the schools.

Councilors on Wednesday also expressed frustration over information circulating in the community.

A group of residents opposed to the budget placed signs around town asking residents to vote against a 7.4 percent tax increase, which town and school officials said was misleading and may have caused residents to believe their entire tax bill was going to increase 7.4 percent.

Babine was among the councilors who said opponents of the budget also used deceitful robocalls to sway voters.

During the meeting, Superintendent of Schools Julie Kukenberger said she has designed a Community Budget Survey that is available on both the School Department and town websites.

The survey goal “is to develop a budget that our community is able to support in one vote,” she said, and the information will also be used “to improve communication for our second budget vote and future budget votes.”

Fireworks

The new fireworks ordinance will allow residents to use fireworks four days a year, down from five: July 3 and 4, and Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. July 5 was removed.

Residents will also have to apply for permits to inform the Fire Department of the activity, affirm they will abide by new “respect your neighbor” guidelines, and have liability insurance.

The new guidelines include letting neighbors know in advance when and where fireworks will be set off; not causing unreasonable disturbances to neighbors, and not setting off fireworks where they will cause debris to fall on abutters’ property or environmentally sensitive areas, such as beaches, marshes or wetlands.

Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or msochan@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter@melaniesochan.

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