FALMOUTH — Four of the seven town councilors spoke out last week against funding in the school budget for an all-day kindergarten program in the new elementary school.
The proposed $26.2 million fiscal 2012 budget is a 6.6 percent increase over this year, mostly due to interest payments for the new school building. It was approved 6-1 by the School Board several weeks ago, with David Snow opposed, and is now before the council, which will decide what it will send to voters in June.
The proposed school budget would add 55 cents to the property tax rate, representing a 6.3 percent increase in taxes. No mil rate increase was proposed by the town.
“I know we have the space, but I have a hard time justifying an increase at this stage when budgets are as tight as they are,” Councilor Will Armitage said.
Armitage said he would support the budget if it includes a tax increase to maintain services, but that he cannot support a budget that increases services and taxes.
“For me, it doesn’t pass the straight-face test,” he said.
Councilors Fred Chase, Faith Varney and Chairman Tony Payne concurred.
“I’m going to ask you to work harder. I’d like to see you keep a flat line, like to see you do it for one more year, maybe two,” Chase said, noting that the schools have not sought a tax increase in four years.
The hearing was attended by several citizens and parents, many of whom spoke in favor of the school budget as presented.
“It’s important to stay competitive with neighboring towns and they’re all shifting to all-day kindergarten,” Ashley Adams said.
Several speakers cited the importance of good schools to property values and many said they would be willing to pay a tax increase to support the schools.
Councilor Bonny Rodden agreed.
“I don’t like supporting property tax increases, but I think this is a case when we need to,” she said.
Rodden and Councilor Cathy Breen cited funding cuts from the state over the past three years as the reason the increase is needed this year.
“I think this is one of those years when we cannot continue to sustain the cuts coming from Augusta,” Breen said. “I support a modest increase.”
Councilor Teresa Pierce also said she would support the budget.
“It’s not my job to decide how you spend your money,” she said. “It’s my job to decide if it’s a fair amount to ask from the taxpayers.”
The school and municipal budgets will go to a public hearing on April 11. On May 16, the council will vote on what will be sent to referendum. The school budget validation referendum will be held June 7.
This story was edited on Friday, April 8, to correct the vote tally in a prior School Board vote on the budget.