Scarborough Town Manager Ron Owens presented the proposed 2008 budget to the town council last week, calling for a 2.5 percent increase over current spending.

The proposed budget weighs in at $74.1 million. If approved, it would add 29 cents to the property tax rate, now at $11.48 per $1,000 of valuation.

The municipal budget accounts for $18.5 million, while the school budget accounts for about $35 million. Debt service is pegged at $4.4 million and the county assessment is budgeted at $1.7 million. At the meeting, Owens said that no new programs or positions are called for under the spending plan.

The budget includes capital projects for both the town and the school, projected at more than $11.5 million. Capital expenditures call for the scheduled replacement of equipment; repairs to the library; and improvements to the first floor of the municipal building. Th capital improvement plan will cover additional funding for Black Point Park; a renovated Public Safety building; and improvements to Jasper Street and drainage problems in Green Acres.

Though Owens said he expects current budget targets for 2007 to be reached, the “uncertainty in the fuel markets” has forced some departments to cut back on other spending. Fuel efficiency will again play a part for the coming year. A task force has identified measures that can be taken in order to conserve fuel.

Despite the spikes in gas prices, other factors have helped keep spending down this year. Owens credited the implementation of the position of purchasing agent and a centralized purchasing office for saving an estimated $500,000 in capital projects and equipment expenses. Also, Owens said, by taking the burden of purchasing away from department managers, additional time and money have been saved in a less obvious but equally important way.

Councilor Shawn Babine said the finance committee will be reviewing the budget in a series of workshops in April, and will make its final recommendations to the council on April 17, the day before the town council’s first reading of the budget. Babine said it would be a “rather accelerated process this year.”

Babine expects that one issue the finance committee will discuss is the size of the school budget. Though the tax rate meets the town’s guideline, Babine said there may also be discussion about the general management of finances and changes that could be made.

Babine, the chair of the finance committee, will have to decide whether to open up the workshops to public comment. He said he will probably make that decision at the meetings, depending on how many people attend. He would allow for a couple of comments, but believes that lengthy public hearings would be “premature” considering the work that needs to be done on both the finance committee and council levels.

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