Officials and state legislators from Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth and South Portland are considering forming a tri-town subgroup to determine how the federal stimulus package will work for the municipalities.

The idea stemmed from a meeting held last week to discuss local municipal and education economies and brainstorm ways to work together.

“The presumed charge of this committee would be to gather the latest information regarding stimulus funds and to disseminate this as quickly as possible to the three communities,” said Cape Town Council Chairman James Rowe.

Congress passed President Barack Obama’s $851 billion federal stimulus package early last month. To what extent funds will trickle down to communities is not yet known.

State Rep. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, said the talks at the meeting focused on stimulus grants for which the towns can apply and how to decide where the money would go.

“We wanted to generate ideas as to how the three communities could better collaborate,” Dill said, and get legislators, local officials and citizens talking to each other.

All three communities face numerous challenges to create 2009-2010 municipal and school budgets.

In Scarborough, for example, the Town Council has charged Town Manager Tom Hall with creating a budget that doesn’t raise property taxes. Hall has repeatedly said he is going to try and do that, but cautions that some municipal services could be cut and some town employees could be let go. In addition, he recently asked municipal union workers to forgo their contractual 3 percent cost-of-living raises to save about $100,000 in the budget.

In Cape Elizabeth, Town Manager Mike McGovern is recommending that the town consolidate its dispatch service with that of Cumberland County, eliminating four jobs and saving the town $130,000.

South Portland City Manager Jim Gailey last week announced the city is laying off five municipal workers, saving the town about $283,000 in fixed costs.

“These are really trying times, something that we haven’t seen before,” said Scarborough Superintendent David Doyle.

The meeting began with brief legislative updates from Sen. Larry Bliss, D-South Portland, and state Reps. Terry Morrison, D-South Portland, Jane Eberle, D-South Portland, Sean Flaherty, D-Scarborough and Dill.

From there, attendees broke into smaller groups and had what Rowe described as “free-wheeling” discussions regarding municipal and education issues – mainly how to handle expected revenue losses and marry those with residents’ expectations of no higher taxes, Rowe said.

“It was not the meeting’s intent to solve problems, only to open doors that might in turn lead to opportunities down the road,” Rowe said. “This was brainstorming, pure and simple.”

The three towns are considering similar meetings in the future, but no dates have been established, Dill said.

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