Scarborough residents speak out for proposed school budget

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SCARBOROUGH — If comments from residents at the first public budget hearing are any indication, voters here will be more than happy to support proposed increases in fiscal 2013 spending. 

By a ratio of about 2-to-1, residents took the podium Wednesday to tell town councilors to approve the budget as proposed. About 60 people attended the public hearing, and 14 spoke to the council. 

The proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 is about $67.6 million, of which $50.3 million would come from property taxes. That would result in a projected property tax rate of $14.03 per $1,000 of property value – a $1 increase from the current rate.  

It translates to about $300 more in property taxes for the average Scarborough homeowner.

Most residents addressed only the School Department portion of the budget. Supporters agreed with Superintendent of Schools George Entwistle III’s claim that the $37.8 million school budget is necessary to “stop the deterioration” of education in Scarborough, which has had several years of flat or reduced budgets.

The proposed school budget cuts about $1.3 million from Entwistle’s original $39.2 million request. 

“It’s not possible to continue to have an expectation of excellence if we’re not going to support it with the resources that are needed,” resident Michelle Arpin said. 

One resident even threatened to take his tax dollars elsewhere if the town doesn’t support the School Board proposal.

“If this budget isn’t passed, I’m willing to move into a different area where residents are willing to support their school system through taxes,” William Bly said. 

With the exception of Council Chairman Ronald Ahlquist, councilors said nothing during the hour-long forum. Ahlquist said the meeting was meant for residents to tell councilors what they thought, not the other way around. 

The School Board’s original budget proposal of $39.2 million represented a 9.86 percent increase over the current year, and a 16.1 percent increase in the tax contribution. Since then, the board has trimmed the budget by eliminating an elementary school position, reducing the line for books and supplies, holding the line on the athletics budget, and replacing one bus instead of two, among other cuts.

The current proposal represents a 6 percent increase in spending over the current year and a roughly 11 percent increase in taxes. The tax need is higher than the increase in spending because the wellspring of federal stimulus money that bridged the gap in the past three years has run dry.

Overall, non-tax revenue for the School Department is down by about 18 percent. But for some residents, the sharp decrease in revenue doesn’t justify the proposed spike in taxes.

“We knew that money was going to go away,” Randy Lamattine said. “For some reason or another we made those (stimulus-funded) positions permanent.”

“As a retired law enforcement officer,” he said, “I can’t afford it anymore.”

Brad Dupee said it isn’t fair to expect more taxes from residents every year when the recession has left many without raises since 2008. Dupee said he is retired, and his income has been constant while taxes continue to rise.

“I’m not the only one in Scarborough on a fixed income,” he said. “You need to take some consideration for people out there trying to survive and make a living.”

Other residents said they support the school budget, but want councilors to take another look at the municipal side.

“The education portion of the budget has been unfairly targeted for cuts over the last three years, while the municipal side has continued to grow,” Susan Hamill said. “Nobody moves to a town because they have great roads, a super fire station, new equipment or a brand new police station. They move to a town because the schools area great.”

The Town Council and School Board will meet for a workshop on April 25 ahead of a final council vote on the budget on May 2. Residents will go to the polls to vote on the school budget on May 15. 

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.