Silence deafening at public hearing on Scarborough budget

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SCARBOROUGH — In stark contrast to recent years, a hearing Wednesday on the proposed fiscal 2017 budget elicited no public comment.

Town Councilor Chris Caiazzo said he interpreted the lack of discussion “on both sides” as an “endorsement that our process is working well.”

For at least the last three years, the town of about 19,500 has failed to pass a school budget on the first try. Last year, the process required two referendums before the budget was passed successfully on the third attempt. The initial proposed budget last year called for an 8.5 percent tax increase

The combined $81.7 million municipal and school budget proposal is up $3.5 million from the current budget of $78.2 million, or 4.4 percent. Approximately $60.4 million would fall to taxpayers, compared with $58 million this fiscal year; $39.7 million of the proposed $47.5 million school budget would come from local taxes, representing a 5.5 percent tax increase on the school side. 

The lack of comment from the public at the May 4 council meeting is probably due to a comparably marginal increase in the proposed tax rate of 3.27 percent, or $16 per $1,000 valuation – up 51 cents from this year’s mil rate of $15.49.

The annual property tax bill is projected to show an increase of $153 for the owner of a home valued at $300,000. 

Complicating the School Department’s funding situation is a gradual decline in state aid. Town Manager Tom Hall said in his early April budget presentation that the town expects to receive nearly 23 percent less school funding this year from the state, which includes a reduction of more than $1 million in general purpose aid. 

Although members of the public were silent Wednesday, some skepticism persists.

Resident Steve Hanly, who frequently blogs about town government at lookoutscarborough.com, isn’t convinced the budget process has improved. If anything, he said Thursday morning, residents are being “lulled into a false sense of security by an artificially low tax rate increase.”

With the comparably modest tax increase proposed this year, in part thanks to a leftover $1.6 million from construction of the new Wentworth Intermediate School, he said residents are going be surprised in subsequent years as the town gets less state aid, as district expenditures increase, and as that $1.6 million windfall dries up. 

The proposed budget “seems to be sailing through the way it was intended to,” he said, and “I think that’s at the expense of the taxpayers, really.”

A second reading of the proposed budget is scheduled for Wednesday, May 18, and the school budget referendum is scheduled for June 14. 

The hope, Chairman Bill Donovan said Wednesday, is that the town will pass the budget on the first try.  

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.
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  • Chew H Bird

    Perhaps, since the cost of supporting local government and shared services rises every year, people are simply exhausted of the efforts to control costs? A local government is supposed to represent the wishes of the people (taxpayers) who live within it’s borders. Seems to me many local governments place a higher priority on people employed by the taxpayers than the majority of citizens.

    I share the view that government employees should be fairly compensated, schools should be safe and well designed, and services such as fire, police, road and weather, water and sewer, utilities, and other shared service should be performed in a cost effective, high quality, and reliable manner. I also believe the people delivering those services should be fairly compensated for their work.

    However, when the cost of government rises on an annual basis while the core base of taxpayers remains stagnant and much of private industry is struggling, something needs to change and that something is rising budgets. The only reason for local government is to provide safety and services that everyone needs. The key to this is need and “needs” must be separated from “wants”.