Scarborough Town Council's top goal: Realistic budget

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SCARBOROUGH — Town councilors outlined 10 goals they hope to accomplish in 2015, including building a responsible and realistic budget and emphasizing economic development. 

Councilors were given colored markers and asked to write checks next to the issues that were most important to them during a workshop. Formulating a responsible and realistic budget garnered the most votes.

Under the umbrella of responsible budgeting, councilors highlighted sub-areas of focus including maintain essential services, providing stability in the tax rate, considering non-property tax revenues, maximizing value, avoiding layoffs, and through it all, recognizing the town’s fiscal restraints. 

While recognizing that fiscal restraint will be needed if Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed budget is passed, councilors ultimately decided to focus on Scarborough’s needs.

“No matter what happens at the state (level), we’re going to maximize value and avoid layoffs,” Chairwoman Jessica Holbrook said. 

Councilor Shawn Babine called what LePage is proposing “astronomical.” But ultimately, he said, “The governor’s budget has little impact on our decision making because it’s so volatile. … What happens at the legislative level is just going to happen.”

Economic development goals defined by the council include increasing collaboration with the Scarborough Economic Development Corp; diversifying the tax base; performing an overall review of ordinances on policies, fees and zoning; encouraging business retention and expansion, and placing an emphasis on Haigis Parkway development.

The council also aims to facilitate collaboration with the School Department on a comprehensive, long-range facility plan. This, to some effect, would include a ranking of facilities across the town and district that are in need of some form of renovation or new construction, Town Manager Tom Hall said in early January. An undertaking of this size would have a trajectory five to 10 years in the future.

That goal is, in part, Hall said, in response to the type of district facility planning that has occurred in recent years, which he described as largely “crisis-driven.”

“Just as much as they need to be a part of our planning, we need to be a part of theirs,” Babine said.

Other areas of concentration include promoting government transparency and improving town communication, not only with other boards and committees, but with residents.

This could include anything from ensuring meeting agendas are available in ample time before meetings, to making town documents more digestible and then accessible on the town’s website.

Hall said he also plans to push the utilization of social media to disseminate information.

Councilors also noted additional areas of focus and improvement, like affordable housing not only for the workforce, but the elderly.

“The age issue is huge for us,” Hall said.

Councilor William Donovan noted the town’s large “bubble” of residents, ages 48-68. “Affordable housing becomes enormously important … and it broadens the tax base, but doesn’t add anything to your school system,” Donovan said. “It is economic development.”

The council is required to formally adopt the outlined goals and will likely do so in early February. 

At the regularly scheduled meeting that followed the workshop, councilors unanimously approved an amendment to a 2002 contract zone to allow Prime Motor Group to tear down a Sunoco gas station at 151 U.S. Route 1 and replace it with an expansion of the car dealership.

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

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.