South Portland approves school budget and bonds, but charter amendment fails

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Voters on Tuesday approved the school budget and two borrowing packages totalling $8.8 million. 

But a proposal to change the City Charter to allow the city to participate in the Maine Municipal Bond Bank’s Revolving Loan Program was unsuccessful because voter turnout was too low, putting receipt of federal stimulus money in jeopardy.

About 2,068 of the city’s 18,506 registered voters cast ballots in this year, well below the 3,165 votes needed to change the charter.

City Clerk Sue Mooney said a surge of voters between 4:30 p.m and 6:30 p.m. gave city officials hope the threshold would be reached.

“For a while I thought we might get up to the 3,000-plus votes,” Mooney said. “But things quieted down after the dinner rush.”

Voters approved a $39.5 million school budget for fiscal 2010 by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, 1,472 to 752. The budget is almost $500,000 smaller than the current budget and will not increase the local tax rate. Sixteen jobs have been eliminated, but there will be no layoffs, since the employees were hired under one-year contracts.

A $5.8 million bond to fund improvements to the high school and two middle schools was approved by a smaller margin, 1,259 to 961. About $2.4 million will be invested in the high school to upgrade the electrical system and installing emergency lighting and a security system with surveillance and intrusion-detection systems. The balance, meanwhile, is earmarked for similar improvements at Mahoney Middle School and Memorial Middle School.

Sixty percent of voters supported borrowing $3 million to improve the Long Creek pump station, but it is unclear if the city will borrow that money. City officials hoped to get the bond through the Revolving Loan Fund and have a portion of the debt forgiven under the federal stimulus program. 

The city, however, did not get a large enough voter turnout to change the City Charter to allow the city to participate in the state loan program, through which the Department of Environmental Protection is funneling the its stimulus funds. Of those who voted, 1,324 were in favor of the charter change and 744 were opposed; 3,165 votes were needed for the proposal to pass. 

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or