South Portland school budget faces pressure

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • 0

SOUTH PORTLAND — Based on preliminary budget estimates, the School Department is looking at the largest tax bite in eight years.

In a joint meeting Wednesday night that some participants saw as premature, city councilors and School Board members were left to loosely conjecture about fiscal 2016 budget impacts that have yet to be handed down from Augusta. 

The district anticipates a reduction in state aid, Superintendent Suzanne Godin said, based on estimates derived from Gov. Paul LePage’s budget proposal.

Without program and position cuts, the anticipated tax impact will be about $2.2 million, or a 7 percent increase, Godin said. 

That increase could be compounded by a decrease in the amount of funding provided by the state for Essential Programs and Services, or how much funding is needed to provide adequate education. The Legislature recommends that 55 percent of the state’s share be devoted to EPS.

LePage’s two-year budget proposes that about $2.09 billion, or 46.25 percent will be appropriated for EPS, compared with 46.8 percent in the current year.

This decrease affects the appropriation needed from the local share, which will rise, Godin explained. The schools’ portion of the property tax rate, currently 8.10 percent, could go up to 8.44 percent, she said. 

“Because of the projected reduction in state subsidies,” the mil rate will be “higher than it has been in the eight years that I’ve been here,” said Godin, who has already announced she will leave her post at the end of the school year.

On the municipal side, the budget proposed by LePage would eliminate municipal revenue sharing, tax previously tax-exempt properties, and make changes to the Homestead property tax exemption, to name a few. 

As a result, City Manager Jim Gailey estimated a 3.8 percent increase in the city’s budget.

If everything goes according to plan, Godin said, she believes the 7 percent school budget increase is the most likely scenario. “That’s what we need when we’re building a needs-based budget,” she said.

Councilor Claude Morgan said he could see himself approving 5.5 percent, all the while “knowing that it’s a shot in the dark.”

Other councilors suggested between 3 and 5 percent increases, including Mayor Linda Cohen, who said she is “concerned about the impact on our residents.”

Councilor Tom Blake said he feels establishing a target is premature. “I still am very uncomfortable tonight coming up with a percent,” he said.

“This really is the blind leading the blind,” Morgan added.

Citing the adverse affects of the Homestead exemption for those under 65 whose exemptions could shift from $10,000 to zero in July 2015, Cohen said, “I can come in somewhere between 3 and 5 (percent), but I’m very concerned about compounding taxes on our citizens.”

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.