Scarborough faces challenging budget season

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SCARBOROUGH — As the town and school district enter budget season, many elected officials say Scarborough will face an uphill battle.

The municipal and school district finance committees, set to meet Thursday, will work through the early stages of both budgets. But elected officials have already warned constituents that this season’s figures, particularly on the school side, are expected to be tight.

At the Feb. 25 School Board meeting, Superintendent George Entwistle said factoring in the anticipated loss in revenue from the state, the district would need to add 4 percent to the district’s budget “just to be flat funded,” and to get to a “true level services starting point.”

Councilor Will Rowan told constituents at the March 2 Town Council meeting, “We’re really facing some dire straits here in Scarborough in terms of the revenue shortfall that’s going to fall to our property taxpayer unless the state comes up with additional funding to put into the general purpose allocation for education.”

On Tuesday, the state Legislature approved a bill that would add $15 million to fund state education, and while it requires approval from Gov. Paul LePage, it could return about a third of the expected loss in state subsidy back to the district, Entwistle said Thursday morning.

Prior to Tuesday, the district expected a loss of about $1.5 million in subsidy from the state. Scarborough is now “projected to get back about a third of that loss, so about $500,000,” Entwistle said.

In other words, Scarborough might be looking at a loss of just over $1 million, rather than $1.5 million.

“It’s still a big hole to fill, and we’re obviously going to look at all of the sources we might have to fill that,” he said. “Having a restoration of $500,000 is better than getting a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, but it still puts us at minus $1 million as we start this budget process.”

Councilor Jean-Marie Caterina said the additional $500,000 is “better than nothing, but it’s still very disappointing because the whole issue is that there needs to be more money spent statewide on schools, period,” she said.

Council Chairman Bill Donovan told the public at the last meeting that if more money is not handed down from the state, cutting programs and services is a likelihood.

“We will be in the position where we are cutting services or raising taxes, and probably both, so this is a very serious, very difficult moment for us,” Donovan said. “It’s the consequence of a formula that does not seem to treat us very well.”

In a town where the budget process is tense, has historically pitted neighbor against neighbor, and last year required three referendum attempts before the budget was approved, some are already warning their constituents that they have to work together and strive for harmony.

“This community is going to have some really, really tough decisions to make,” Councilor Peter Hayes said at the March 2 meeting. “We have to find a way that we can at least listen civilly, respect the other person, (and) find a way somehow to come to a concensus for what we’re going to do,” he said.

On Thursday, March 24, the Town Council and School Board will hold a joint meeting to discuss the prelinimary budget and, on April 6, Town Manager Tom Hall and Entwistle will present their fiscal year 2017 budgets. On Thursday, April 7, the School Board will hold a first reading of the budget.

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or aacquisto@theforecaster.net. Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA.

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South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.