Yarmouth council sends disputed budget to Town Meeting

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YARMOUTH — Over continued objections from some vocal opponents, the Town Council approved the $36 million fiscal year 2017 budget.

The combined municipal, school and county budgets now go to a June 7 annual Town Meeting.

Councilors on May 5 approved the budget 5-1, with Councilor Pat Thompson opposed and Councilor Jim MacLeod absent. The vote followed a public hearing of more than two hours.

The municipal budget of almost $12 million is a reduction of about $66,000, or 0.55 percent, from the current year. The town is conducting a revaluation, to be completed this month, which will contribute to a lower tax rate of $18.48 per $1,000 of assessed value. The new tax rate represents a decrease of $3.08 from the current year, or 14.29 percent.

The $23.1 million school budget includes an increase of almost $1.1 million, or 4.97 percent, and will go to referendum June 14 in addition to being voted on at Town Meeting.

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.

Thompson said the budget made her feel “angst” over doing what’s best for children and what’s best for seniors.

Residents over the past few months have been split, with some saying the school budget is needed to help Yarmouth students, and others saying the tax burden is too high for those on fixed incomes to absorb.

“Tonight I will vote against this budget because I believe greater effort could have and should have been made to reconcile the views of all the residents,” Thompson said.

A petition with more than 100 signatures was submitted to the council in April by Bruce Soule, of the Tax Study Committee, asking that the school budget be reduced.

“We must continue to petition the school district, requiring that they ensure that our monies are not just spent, but well spent,” Thompson said last Thursday.

But most councilors said they recognize the concerns people have about the budget, but that they support the spending plan.

“This is a really difficult balance, to balance the needs of the schools and the town,” Councilor Rob Waeldner said. “I will support the budget. I think it balances the two.”

Waeldner added that “all the voices will be heard going forward,” and Councilor Andy Kittredge agreed.

“I think we need to look long term at how we can sustain a tax rate that is affordable to all residents, not just the people who choose to move in at the time for education,” he said.

Councilor David Craig, though, said that next year the School Committee must budget more money for hiring new teachers to support increasing enrollment.

“Next year I think it’s essential that we address the increasing class sizes,” he said. “We’re really pushing the boundaries of the class sizes.”

Superintendent Andrew Dolloff in February said the biggest driver in the budget is increasing enrollment. He said enrollment has gone up 14 percent since 2010, with almost 80 new students across the district’s four schools this year.

Councilors said they were happy to see so many residents participate in the budget process this year and hope people will continue to be involved year round. They also said they don’t like seeing residents taking sides and splitting the town.

“Driving around town and seeing the signs saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’ hurt me,” Councilor Tamson Bickford-Hamrock said, referring to signs residents placed in their yards urging the council to vote one way or the other.

The June 7 Town Meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at Frank Harrison Middle School.

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

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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.