SANFORD — There were very few members of the public at Tuesday’s public hearing on the June 9 municipal and school budget referendums and none of them had anything to say.

But one councilor, Alan Walsh, who had been unable to attend the session when the council approved the budget, had some questions ”“ and some comments, mostly for the School Department.

The budgets go to validation referendums June 9.

Tuesday’s public hearing, the second in the budget process, was held to comply with state law, which mandates a public hearing prior to a referendum vote.

Sanford’s combined school and municipal budget for the year that begins in July is proposed at $60.3 million, up by about 1.98 percent from the current year. The budget committee had hoped to hold the increase to 1.5 percent increase, but the city charter requires an increase in money for the capital improvement plan. City Manager Steve Buck said there’s another charter-mandated half a percent increase for the CIP next year, and then it levels off, which he said means increases should be able to be held to 1.5 percent in ensuing years.

If approved June 9, the current $21.62 tax rate will increase by 44 cents next fiscal year. The actual mil rate however, depends on property valuations and so the figure could change.

This year, the budget panel examined the school and municipal budgets together, eliminating, proponents of that approach said, the sense that one side of the equation is pitted against another.

Walsh said he wasn’t saying whether he was for or against the budgets, but questioned Superintendent David Theoharides about additional revenue the school department received from the state and about an error that didn’t take substitute teacher salaries into account in the current budget. Walsh said to him, that means the School Department is getting about $1.8 million more in revenue for next year.

The error that resulted in some substitute teacher funding not being budgeted this year came during the tenure of a previous business manager, Theoharides explained. And he pointed out that the “extra” state revenue is really money the district should have been getting all along. He said the School Department had been trying to get the state aid revenue corrected for the past three years.

“Its not like a windfall,” said Theoharides. As to the errors, he said the new business manager was to be commended for finding errors a previous manager made and correcting them.

He said the budget process this time around was the first time it had not been adversarial.

“We worked together,” said Theoharides.

“This year there seemed to be a better working relationship between the school and the city,” said Councilor Fred Smith, adding he hopes that continues. Smith earlier noted Sanford’s projected tax increase of 44 cents is far lower than increases being contemplated in other communities.

Walsh said he understood there was a new school business manager and that everything was “warm and fuzzy,” but said his job as a councilor “is not to go with the flow.” He claimed this is the fifth year in a row there have been inconsistencies with the school budget.

Walsh also took issue with $73,000 in municipal overlay included in the budget, when none of the overlay was used this year. Steve Buck pointed out that state law allows up to five percent overlay, which in Sanford’s case could be as much as $2.9 million ”“ a figure he said Sanford would never contemplate. Buck said the money not used last year lapsed into the general fund.

Mayor Tom Cote said Walsh’s concerns about the school budget were “old news,” and that the errors and state revenue had been discussed thoroughly by the Budget Committee. He said the budget process has been transparent.

“At some point we need to move on,” said Cote, who added there’s a level of confidence at the school department now that there hadn’t been in prior years.

Cote also pointed out that four years ago, Sanford taxpayers paid 10 percent more, seven percent more three years ago, and that last year, the increase was at 1.98 percent, the same as projected for the coming year.

“In my opinion our budget is under control,” Cote said.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or [email protected]

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