Yarmouth budgets generate concern, but move forward

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YARMOUTH — Despite some concerns, the Town Council moved the municipal and school budgets forward to a final public hearing.

Councilors on April 14 unanimously decided to take up the combined $36 million budget May 5, when they are also expected to adopt it.

Three of the four hours of the meeting were spent on public comment from the standing-room-only crowd at the Log Cabin. While councilors heard from people both for and against the budget, most of the three dozen people who spoke supported it.

The municipal budget of almost $12 million would decline about $66,000, or 0.55 percent. The town is conducting a revaluation, to be completed in May, which will contribute to a lower tax rate of $18.48 per $1,000 of assessed value. That’s a decrease of $3.08 from the current year, or 14.29 percent.

Yarmouth’s overall budget, which includes the county assessment of more than $1 million, will increase by more than $1 million, or 3.11 percent.

Most of the people who spoke addressed the $23.1 million school budget, which would increase almost $1.1 million, or 4.97 percent.

“After reading the school budget, it was clear that it was put together carefully and thoughtfully,” resident Kate Shub said. “The return on your investment is priceless.”

“It’s a needs-based budget,” School Committee member Philip Jones said.

But Bruce Soule, who belongs to a group that calls itself the Yarmouth Tax Study Committee, asked councilors to reject the school budget. The group, which has about two dozen members, organized in March.

“I’m here tonight to speak out for residents who are afraid to speak out about overspending,” Soule said.

Soule submitted a petition to councilors asking them to reject the school budget, which, according to him, had 180 signatures. Town Manager Nat Tupper on Tuesday said the signatures haven’t been counted or certified by the town clerk because the petition was submitted to “make a statement” and hadn’t been done through the town’s official process.

Superintendent of Schools Andrew Dolloff said he and the School Committee are seeking more spending per student. Dolloff said enrollment has gone up 14 percent since 2010, with almost 80 new students across the district’s four schools this year.

Some residents at the public hearing had concerns about increasing enrollment and students who are nonresidents. They also spoke of the “campus class,” which refers to people who move to town only so their children can attend Yarmouth schools, and expressed concern about the impact the school budget will have on the town’s elderly residents.

To address these concerns, Councilor David Craig presented a tax assistance program called Senior Tax Assistance Yarmouth, or STAY, which would have used $120,000 from the town’s undesignated funds to help seniors pay their taxes. Craig’s motion was not supported and died for lack of a second.

Despite this, Councilor Pat Thompson said the needs of older residents can’t be neglected.

“While everyone wants the best for Yarmouth’s students, it shouldn’t be at the expense of our elderly,” she said. “The School Committee needs to work more closely with us so we can address the needs of all Yarmouth residents.”

Council Chairman Randall Bates said the School Committee did include items in the budget that councilors specifically requested, including nurses in each school and revised benefit packages.

“With respect to the School Committee, I think they’ve done what we’ve asked them to do,” Bates said. “I’m not happy with the municipal or school side of the budget, but I support it.”

Councilor Rob Waeldner wasn’t happy with the budget either.

“On the municipal side, it’s a lean budget, maybe a little too lean,” he said. “On the school side, I think the increase was a little high.”

Waeldner said he trusts Dolloff and the School Committee, however, and is “comfortable” with their budget.

But he also said supporting the two budgets was a hard decision.

“It was not a slam dunk,” Waeldner said.

That seemed to be the consensus among councilors, who approved the budget unanimously, despite their concerns.

After the May 5 public hearing, the budget will be voted on at the annual Town Meeting June 7. The school budget must be ratified in a referendum June 14.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Yarmouth Superintendent of Schools Andrew Dolloff speaks, right, during a public hearing April 14 on the municipal and school budgets. More than 100 people attended the meeting in the Log Cabin.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.