After months of deliberating, the Cape Elizabeth Town Council adopted school and municipal budgets Monday totaling $35.2 million that will increase property taxes by 1.9 percent.

The council approved a $23.5 million school budget that increases spending 1.3 percent but is $110,539 less than the original budget proposed by the School Board in April. The council also approved a $9.8 million municipal budget, up 6.2 percent or $570,819.

According to Town Manager Michael McGovern, the combined $35.2 million spending plan would raise taxes by 32 cents to $17.12 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

While the council made the final decision on the municipal budget, the school budget now goes to Cape voters during a June 9 budget validation vote, a process mandated by the state.

Despite some public criticism of the school spending plan during a hearing on both budgets Monday, the council voted 4-3 to approve the $23.5 million school budget, with councilors Patricia Grennon, Caitlin Jordan and Jamie Wagner opposed. The municipal budget passed unanimously.

Several residents at Monday’s hearing urged the Town Council to approve the original $23.6 million budget proposed by the School Board.

“The proposed budget that was rejected by the council had a tiny 0.6 (percent) increase in taxes over the prior year,” said resident Cindy Voltz, who presented a petition to the council signed by more than 60 supporters. “This increase was the smallest increase by far in any town department and the smallest for schools in several years.”

Another resident, Mary Townsend, called the School Board’s proposed budget “very fair and lean.”

“We respectfully request that should the state aid come in above current anticipated amounts, that any reductions approved at tonight’s meeting be restored on receipt of those funds, and any additional subsidies then be used for tax relief,” School Board Chairwoman Joanna Morrissey said during public comment.

Cape’s proposed tax increase is relatively low for the area. In Scarborough, the school board is proposing a nearly $47 million budget, about $3.3 million more than this year. South Portland’s school board is proposing a $45.8 million budget, an increase of nearly $1 million.

Cape leaders have been trying to present a spending proposal that limits tax increases, a directive handed down by the Town Council Finance Committee on April 27.

On Monday, referring to the council’s no-tax-increase recommendation, Wagner said, “I don’t see any magic to a zero-percent number. I agree with the speakers today that it’s an arbitrary number. It doesn’t reflect responsible government to me. You should base (the budget) on the needs of what the school system are.”

The School Board’s original $23.6 million budget would have represented a 1.8 percent increase – or $407,014, posing an annual $22 tax increase on a median home valued at $314,000.

According to the town website, the school budget currently accounts for $12.19 of the town’s tax rate of $16.80.

Responding to recent allegations that the Town Council was not transparent in its budget deliberations, Town Council Finance Committee Chairman Jim Walsh said that the council workshops, such as the April 27 workshop in the downstairs conference room at the Town Hall, are not usually filmed.

“There are minutes and action points that were captured by the (town) clerk,” Walsh said. “This is the standard process. We felt we could make a decision to move the number – which is the only control we have – to a public hearing. There was no smoke and mirrors.”

Due to the $4 million Thomas Memorial Library renovation project approved by voters last fall, the municipal portion of the budget accounts for 24 cents of the total budget increase.

In addition to the $9.8 million fiscal year 2016 budget, the council approved a county assessment of $1.2 million, up 5.6 percent over this year, and a Community Services budget of $533,790, up 14.8 percent. While the Community Services budget accounts for 4 cents of the increase, the county assessment accounts for 3 cents.

Also contributing to the budget increase is a $40,000 rise in health insurance costs; an increase in worker’s compensation insurance of $30,000; and $15,000 in additional retirement costs. This year, however, the town budgeted $950,000 for long-term capital improvement costs, which is $50,000 less than previous years.


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