Yarmouth council sends $32.7M budget to voters

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YARMOUTH — The Town Council has approved a $32.7 million combined town and school budget.

The fiscal 2014 spending plan now goes to Town Meeting on June 18. The school budget faces a June 25 validation referendum.

The Town Council’s 6-1 vote on May 16 added back into the budget an approximately $8,400 crossing-guard position for the intersection of Main and Elm streets.

But lower-than-expected propane costs more than compensated for the additional expense. Even with the restored position, there is a net reduction in municipal spending from $10.94 million to $10.92 million, about $1,500 less than the current budget.

Revenues include $7.1 million in property taxes, $1.5 million in excise tax, $750,000 in state revenue sharing, $440,000 from fund balance, and $1.1 million in other line items. Town Manager Nat Tupper has said there is concern the state could reduce revenue sharing, and remove $40,000 in truck excise taxes.

The proposed school budget could increase more than 3.1 percent, from $20.2 million to $20.8 million. Part of the hike includes a potential $266,000 local contribution toward teacher retirements proposed by Gov. Paul LePage. Without that payment, the budget increase would be almost 1.8 percent.

The total property tax, including municipal, school and county expenses, could increase 1.14 percent, from $26.2 million to $26.5 million. But an expected reduction in the net tax base, due in part to the continually decreasing value of Wyman Station, could cause the tax rate to increase 4.4 percent, from $21.20 per $1,000 of property valuation, to $22.14.

The amount the Wyman value will decrease is still unknown, so the town tax rate could change accordingly.

Councilor James MacLeod said he supported the budget “because I just don’t think that there are any responsible alternatives at this point in time. I do think, quite frankly, that the path that we’re on is unsustainable … if we’re looking at property taxes as the source of revenue to fund all the things that we’re talking about, that either we have or that we need and we don’t have.  … We need new revenue sources.”

Councilor Pat Thompson, who voted against the budget, echoed MacLeod’s “unsustainable path” sentiment.

“If we’re going to get the dialogue started with this community about where cuts can and should be made in our expenditures, then I’m willing to put myself on the line and start the dialogue,” she said, suggesting a need for revenue and economic development.

Councilor David Craig acknowledged that “we probably are underfunding the municipal side of the budget,” but noted that “I tend to think that … both sides of the equation – the school and the town – have really done a really great job managing that crisis of loss of revenue from Wyman Station,” and that they had done so “in a really tough decade.”

In other business, the council named Dan Ostrye as this year’s Latchstring Award recipient. His service to Yarmouth includes involvement with its 2010 Comprehensive Plan, the Conservation Commission, the Parks & Lands and Bike & Pedestrian committees, and the West Side Trail.

The council also adopted an amendment to the dog control ordinance that requires dogs to be on leashes at the new segment of the West Side Trail, and supported the re-opening of Lane’s Island to softshell clam harvesting.

The panel also adopted and integrated a character-based development code for Route 1. The decision reflects the town’s shift away from ordinary use-based zoning, and weighs more significantly how buildings look, instead of what is inside them.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.