March 16, 2010

Cape voters reject school budget

TREVOR MAXWELL

— By

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Staff Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette: Emelia Melanson 9, Nate Ingalls 9, Brette Lennon 11 and Julia Lennon 9, hold signs in support of the proposed school budget at Cape Elizabeth High School Tuesday July 22, 2008.

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Staff Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette: Barbara Dunham and her daughter Katie Beth Dunham hold signs in opposition to the proposed school budget at Cape Elizabeth High School Tuesday July 22, 2008.

Staff Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH — Six weeks after rejecting a school budget because it was too low, voters on Tuesday turned down an increased proposal, apparently because it was too high.

The $19.9 million proposal failed by an unofficial count of 1,141 voters against and 1,097 in support.

In an advisory question on the ballot, 66 percent of voters said they felt the proposal was too high. With the same advisory question on the June 10 ballot, which offered a $19.6 million school budget, 60 percent of voters said the proposal was too low.

The Town Council chairwoman, however, said Tuesday's vote not as much of a surprise as some might think.

''I'm not shocked,'' Mary Ann Lynch said Tuesday night. ''We have gotten two votes that we can read together. It reflects that we have to do more work with the budget.''

Lynch noted that the money in question -- a $263,000 difference between the June 10 and the July 22 ballots -- represents less than 1 percent of the town's overall budget of $31 million.

''I think everybody in Cape Elizabeth wants good schools,'' she said. ''We're disagreeing over the fringes.''

The two rejections mean the School Board and council must again come up with a figure that they think will be acceptable to a majority of voters. And a third budget validation vote will be scheduled in the coming weeks.

This spring, the School Board recommended a budget of $19.9 million to the Town Council -- a 6 percent increase over last year.

In May, the council adopted a scaled down $19.6 million school budget. Superintendent Alan Hawkins told residents the loss of the $263,000 would mean the curriculum director, a teacher and three education technicians would be laid off.

A validation vote, mandated by a new state law, was held on June 10. The law gives voters the last say on school budgets, through an up-or-down referendum by paper ballot.

On June 10, 1,891 people voted against the proposed $19.6 million budget and 1,250 voted for it, with the majority expressing the opinion that the proposal was too low. Cape Elizabeth and Monmouth are believed to be the only Maine towns where voters rejected budgets this year because they were too low.

Cape Elizabeth town councilors believed that residents had sent a message calling for the higher figure, so they put the $19.9 million budget up for the vote on Tuesday.

At the polls, opinions were strong in both camps.

''There are a lot of people feeling the same way. We ought to be able to hold the line on spending, particularly in these economic times,'' said Sandy Dunham.

''Everyone's expenses keep going up, up, up. There are retired people in this town. There are people living on fixed incomes,'' Dunham said. ''If no one takes a stand this year, then what is going to happen next year and the year after that?''

Along with her husband, Tom Dunham, and several friends, Sandy Dunham stood on the sidewalk leading to the high school on Tuesday afternoon while voting was held inside. They held signs urging a ''no'' vote. Just up the sidewalk, lining Ocean House Road, high school students and parents held ''yes'' signs.

''People really value their schools in this town. Education is one of the most foolproof ways to invest,'' said Anna Tranfaglia, 18, who graduated this spring. Along with friends Andrew Pezzullo and Luc Cary, Tranfaglia has worked on the issue since May. She held weekly meetings, went door-to-door and encouraged other young people to get involved.

''The 6 percent budget is a maintenance budget for next year. That's what it would cost to keep things the same, because of the higher costs of fuel'' and other necessities, Tranfaglia said. ''Anything less than that would mean cuts.''

The turnout of 2,249, which included absentee voters, represented 30 percent of registered voters, said Town Clerk Ruth Noble. The June 10 vote had a higher turnout, with 3,141 ballots cast, 41 percent of eligible voters.

Until the public approves a proposal through a vote, the budget adopted by the council in May will be the working budget for the school department and other town services. That provides $19.6 million for schools, $8.8 million for town services and $1 million to be paid to Cumberland County.

Under that budget, taxpayers would see an increase of 88 cents per $1,000 property value -- an additional $220 for the owner of a property valued at $250,000. That homeowner paid roughly $4,100 in property taxes for the fiscal year that ended in June.

Staff writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at:

tmaxwell@pressherald.com

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