Scarborough reduces proposed budget increases, property tax hike

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SCARBOROUGH — A proposed reduction in the combined town and school budget would mean a drop in the corresponding tax increase for property owners.

Town Manager Thomas Hall and School Superintendent Julie Kukenberger unveiled new recommendations Wednesday at a Wentworth School budget forum. The changes include a $1.5 million decline in the combined budget, bringing it to $63.2 million.

The newly projected tax increase now ranges from 3.25 percent to 4.8 percent. The budget proposal originally called for a tax increase of 5.77 percent to 7.14 percent.

In a later interview, Hall said he and Kukenberger were able to arrive at the new numbers through “a series of refinements of revenue estimates and new information regarding revenues.”

Cuts in town expenditures include not increasing the number of hours for a library position, which saved money in related benefits, and not hiring another part-time codes officer.

Hall said the new proposed budget was expected to be shared at a joint finance committee meeting Thursday, April 27, and the same night at a School Board meeting. The new proposal could also be incorporated into the second reading of the school budget on Thursday.

On the municipal side, revenues are expected to increase by nearly $460,000, while expenditures decrease by $215,00, for a net reduction of almost $675,000.

In the education budget, revenues are expected to increase by $394,000 and expenditures to decrease by almost $478,000, for a decrease of nearly $872,000.

During the budget forum, Peter Hayes, chairman of the Town Council finance committee, and Jodi Shea, his counterpart on the School Board, presented a budget overview to an audience of around 100 people.

The overview was followed by a question-and-answer period where the town and school officials answered questions residents submitted in advance, which gave officials time to prepare answers.

Questions ranged from the town’s cell phone and training policies, long-range facilities plans and health insurance premiums, to teacher contracts, and how much the School Board paid Hanover Research for a study of new school start times.

On training, Hall said, “We are in the people business. There is a direct correlation between training and level of service (the town) can provide.”

Hall said there is $121,000 earmarked for training in the current 2017 budget, and the number increases to $128,000 in the proposed budget, although that may be re-examined.

Health insurance policies differ for teachers and town staffers. Hall said the town pays 100 percent of an employee’s premium, but only 50 percent for families. Hayes said the town will be looking at whether the town is headed in the right direction, adding, “It is on our radar screen.”

School Board Chairwoman Kelly Murphy said the teacher contract calls for the School Department to pay 80 percent of premiums. Murphy said starting with the previous teacher contract, the schools no longer cover spouses if they get insurance through the workplace. She called it a “huge cost-saver,” that has saved the schools about $300,000 per year.

According to Kukenberger, the School Department has an agreement in place with Hanover Research that allows an unlimited number of research projects to be conducted for a flat fee of $10,000.

In addition to three surveys on school start time, the schools administered an earlier study and are now working on a culture and climate survey. Other projects are being planned, she said, such as a transportation audit to help find redundancies in bus routes and a leadership program analysis.

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

A revised Scarborough budget for fiscal 2018 was introduced Wednesday night, April 26, at Wentworth School.