Speakers decry additional $500K in Scarborough budget cuts

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SCARBOROUGH — Additional cuts to programs and services will have to be made if reductions of more than $500,000 proposed by the Town Council Finance Committee are approved by the full council next week.

The majority of the speakers at Wednesday evening’s budget hearing asked the council to reconsider those cuts, which would come in the form of $225,000 from the school’s $36.2 million budget and nearly $278,000 from the $20.6 million municipal budget.

Approximately 60 residents turned out Wednesday for a public hearing on the proposed $70 million town budget, which would raise taxes by 3.9 percent. The committee’s recommended cuts would reduce the tax increase to 2.7 percent.

The school budget was increased by $545,000 last month after the School Board restored several jobs that had previously been slashed, including an elementary school guidance counselor, middle school foreign language teacher and 4.2 teacher positions at the high school.

Now some of those positions may be in jeopardy again as the council considers ways to reduce the overall tax impact.

“Last year the Police Department lost no staffing, the Fire Department gained four federally supported positions, public works lost two positions and the School Department lost 27 positions,” resident Debra Fuchs-Ertman said. “We need to look at our marketability. We could increase the mil rate and still be very competitive with other towns.”

State Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, asked the council to reconsider the proposed additional cuts to the schools, reading from a recent report that the town of Falmouth was chosen by GreatSchools.org as the No. 1 place in America to “Live and Learn.”

“That should have been us. It could have been us,” Volk said. 

“If this budget is approved, Scarborough will have lost more than 60 (school) positions in last two years,” resident Christine Kukka said. “Town officials have historically argued this (cut) is to help low or moderate income property owners. How does this help poor or middle class families? If they’re not satisfied with the education their children are getting, the upper class families can hire tutors. The poor or middle class cannot.”

Other speakers advocated for reconsideration of committee-recommended cuts to social service agencies, including $5,000 cut from the Southern Maine Agency on Aging, $10,000 from Project GRACE and $8,000 from the Scarborough Land Trust.

“Last year we spent more than $22,000 for heating assistance to Scarborough residents. This year we’ve already spent $30,000, three times last year’s town allocation,” Project GRACE Executive Director Mary Rollo said.

Jack Anderson of the Land Trust asked that the town consider how much it gets for the $8,000 it contributes to the land trust.

“Maintaining property takes a huge amount of time,” he said. “The Land Trust is one employee. She receives no benefits, no retirement.”

Several speakers asked the councilors to think about the work the Southern Maine Agency on Aging does for Scarborough residents, citing the high number of older people in the area and the programs, such as Medicare classes and caregiver support, the agency provides.

The council will vote on the budget at its next meeting on May 4. The school budget will go to a public referendum May 10.

Last year the school budget failed at the first referendum and then, after the council restored $100,000, it passed at the second referendum.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.