Scarborough faces 3rd school budget referendum

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SCARBOROUGH — Residents will be asked to vote for the third time on a school budget for fiscal year 2014.

As a result of unexpected state subsidies, the budget will increase by about $520,000, to $39.4 million. But its passage would result in a property tax decrease.

Town Councilors on Wednesday scheduled a July 31 special meeting for a second reading on changes to the town and school budgets. They also proposed Aug. 13 as the date for the referendum on the revised school spending plan.

Before preparing for the third school budget validation vote since May 14, councilors also tabled the second reading and vote on zoning revisions that would create the Crossroads Planned Development District on 450 acres of land owned by Scarborough Downs.

The anticipated property tax rate of $14.88 will likely be reduced to at least $14.80 as a result of the state biennial budget that increased general purpose aid to town schools by $788,000, from $3.47 million to $4.25 million.

On the municipal side, Town Manager Tom Hall increased anticipated excise tax revenues by $350,000, to $4.2 million, while the town stands to see a $326,000 reduction, to $782,000, in state revenue sharing of sales and income tax revenues.

The combined effects allowed Hall to present a tax rate below what had been anticipated. The amount could be reduced more when the annual property valuation is completed later this month or early next month, he said, and if values exceed a projected $15 million increase.

But for the School Department to use the additional subsidy, both to pay $520,000 in pension obligations previously funded by the state and to use $267,000 to help reduce the tax burden, voters must approve the amendments to the budget passed June 11.

Councilor Richard Sullivan said he hoped to avoid another referendum. But it is required by state law, and Hall said the council could not act alone on the school budget changes.

“Should you do nothing, that money will not be available for tax relief in this year,” Hall said.

Voters rejected the initial school budget on May 14. They approved a revised budget of $38.8 million on June 11.

Scarborough Downs zoning

Councilors did decide to do nothing this month on the proposed creation of the Crossroads Planned Development District, which is a council vote away from enactment.

The motion to table the vote was made by Councilor Kate St. Clair, and passed by a 6-1 vote after developer Andrew Ingalls and lawyer Ed McColl, who represents Scarborough Downs owner Sharon Terry, suggested changes that would make it easier to allow new forms of gambling in the zone.

St. Clair suggested councilors wait until their Aug. 21 meeting to allow more consideration of a request for a provision that would allow expanded gambling if voters approve, but would not require any zoning changes as part of the referendum approval.

St. Clair said she preferred to get input from Town Planner Dan Bacon, who is on vacation this week, before amending the plans.

As written, the zoning plan allows gambling in its current form at the 63-year-old track. McColl said there are no immediate plans to seek a referendum on expanding gambling.

But he and Ingalls were clear that they and Terry view a “racino” as critical to development in the district and the future of the track.

“It is the catalyst that would drive the aspects of the new zone,” Ingalls said.

A racino would also require statewide voter approval. Scarborough voters have twice rejected expanded gambling at the track. Biddeford voters approved a plan that would have moved the track and added a racino near the Maine Turnpike, but the plan was rejected in a 2011 state referendum.

In other business, the planned October dredging of the Scarborough River by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took a step forward as councilors approved an agreement granting access to dredging crews on town land near the municipal pier at Pine Point and across the river at Ferry Beach.

The $3 million project, funded with Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief funds from Hurricane Sandy, will provide sand for Western Beach near the Prout’s Neck Country Club and add depth to the channel leading to the mouth of the river.

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.