Some Cape Elizabeth budget items still unsettled

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Residents can weigh in on the combined municipal and school budgets – which could raise the tax rate by $1.33, or 7.4 percent – at a Town Council public hearing May 7. 

The proposed $39.7 million combined budget includes $12.4 million for local government and $25.6 million to fund the schools.

If combined with a 3-cent increase in the tax rate from the Cumberland County assessment, the total tax rate would increase from this year’s $18 to $19.33 per $1,000 of assessed valuation in fiscal year 2019. The increase would add $400 to the tax bill for a home valued at $300,000.

Also scheduled for discussion at the public hearing are nine special-fund budgets, ranging from the Cape Elizabeth Rescue Fund to Portland Head Light Fund. Councilors are expected to vote on the special funds May 7, but won’t vote on the town, school and county budgets until May 14. The school budget is subject to a voter validation referendum June 12.

Town Manager Matt Sturgis has also informed the council that a $1.3 million budget line to replace a Fire Department ladder truck will have to go referendum June 12 because all town expenses over $1 million must be approved by voters. 

In recent weeks, the council has been considering outstanding municipal budget items, including funds for a school resource officer, a senior tax assistance program and a request from the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust.

Sturgis included markers in the budget for the resource officer and a senior tax assistance program. Including those two items in the final town budget would increase the town’s current portion of the tax rate by 6 cents, from $4.25 to $4.31. Sturgis’ initial budget proposal would have reduced the town’s portion of the tax rate by 2 cents. 

If the council votes to fund $90,000 for a resource officer, Sturgis said the money would be integrated into the Police Department budget. The $75,000 for a senior tax assistance program would be integrated into the town’s contributions budget. 

“If the council does not support one of these items then that total municipal amount would be lowered to reflect the change,” Sturgis said. 

Sturgis also included $50,000 in the proposed budget to implement pay-and-display parking meters at Fort Williams Park, although the amount is subject to further discussion. 

The council is still in the information-gathering phase regarding parking fees. Chairwoman Jessica Sullivan said at a workshop Tuesday that she was in favor of charging for parking, while Councilor Jamie Garvin said he would like to see the town exhaust all other potential revenue streams from the park before adding meters.

Councilor Chris Straw suggested a year-long trial run to see how charging for parking at the park might work before sending the question to a referendum.

If the council opts not to implement meters in FY 2019, Sturgis said the $50,000 would be put into the town’s capital projects budget.

CELT request

Late last year, the land trust asked the town to contribute almost $282,000, or a third of the required $845,000 to purchase nearly 52 acres of land abutting the Robinson Woods Preserve

The town’s land acquisition fund has a balance of about $54,800, which Sturgis said will likely increase by about $32,900 in the budget, and an additional $80,000 from a pending land sale, for a total of about $167,000 in FY19.

Some councilors said they would be in favor of funding some of the request, but not the entire amount. 

Garvin said he is a huge supporter of open space preservation, but would be hesitant to give more than what the town has in the land acquisition fund. 

Councilor Penny Jordan said she isn’t considering the $80,000 “money in the bank” until the sale is finalized, which Sturgis said he is “extremely confident” will happen in the next few months. 

CELT Executive Director Cindy Krum urged the council to consider the full $282,000, but said the land trust will continue to pursue the purchase through fundraising if the council only funds a portion of the cost. 

“We’re under contract (to purchase Robinson Woods III), so that is still our biggest priority,” she said. However, she noted that the land trust has its eye on a few other properties, so if the town only funds part of the $282,000 request, it will “limit what they can do elsewhere.” 

Still, the consensus of the council was to consider funding no more than what is in the land acquisition account, so Sturgis eliminated $114,000 from the proposed budget that would account for the remaining amount of CELT’s request. 

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

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