SCARBOROUGH — Voting started Thursday on a revised 2017-18 school budget and will culminate July 25 with a second town referendum.

The Town Council and School Board approved cuts Wednesday evening totaling $307,000 – $236,000 from the school budget and $71,000 from the town budget – after 57 percent of town voters rejected an initial $47.4 million school budget proposal June 13.

The revised $47.2 million school budget proposal is $1.3 million, or 2.9 percent, higher than the current budget and would result in an overall property tax rate increase of about 3 percent.

While the official referendum day is July 25, when voting will take place from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Town Hall, early voting in the presence of the town clerk started Thursday and will continue through July 20 during regular business hours.

Town Manager Tom Hall said officials are aware that many people are on vacation at this time of year, but the hope is that voters will find a moment to stop by Town Hall at some point in the next few weeks to cast their ballots.

“These days, over half of ballots cast are done early, and that’s increasing all the time,” Hall said. “Stop in when you can.”

Town Hall is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and until 6:30 p.m. every first and third Wednesday of the month. Absentee ballots will be mailed to voters if requested by calling the town clerk.

Scarborough’s turnout for the June 13 referendum was relatively high. While some communities reported school budget referendum turnout percentages in the single digits, 4,237 of Scarborough’s 16,848 registered voters (25 percent) cast ballots in the initial referendum.

The vote on June 13 was 2,408 to 1,822 against a budget that would have increased school spending in the coming year by $1.5 million, or 3.4 percent, and would have absorbed an anticipated $1.4 million reduction in state education aid.

It was the fifth time in 10 years that town voters rejected the school budget on the first ballot. Opponents used social media, robo calls and lawn signs to campaign against the spending plan, specifically against the use of $2.1 million in surplus funds and a 7.4 percent increase in the amount to be raised in property taxes, from $39.8 million to $42.8 million, which included adult education and food service costs. The $47.4 million gross budget total on the June 13 ballot excluded adult ed and food services.

On Tuesday, state lawmakers passed a two-year state budget that allocates $162 million in new funding for public education – $48.4 million to school systems in fiscal 2018, which started July 1, and another $113.6 million in fiscal 2019.

Whether Scarborough’s allocation will increase remains to be seen. How much districts receive will depend on whether they choose to collaborate with other districts. The state budget also aims to send more funding to poorer districts and allow districts to tap a fund for unexpected special education costs.

The Maine Department of Education announced Thursday that updated subsidy amounts would be available no later than July 21. If Scarborough’s allocation increases, 50 percent of the increase would go toward tax relief in the 2017-18 budget and the other half would be allocated to a school capital reserve fund, according to state law and the budget proposal approved by the Town Council on Wednesday night.

The initial $47.4 million school budget proposal was part of an overall $84.5 million operating budget for municipal, school and county services that would have increased overall spending by $2.5 million, or 3 percent, in the fiscal year starting July 1.

Under the initial combined spending plan, Scarborough’s property tax rate would have increased about 56 cents, or 3.49 percent, from $15.92 to $16.48 per $1,000 in assessed property value. The annual tax bill on a $300,000 home would have increased $168, from $4,776 to $4,944.

With the proposed $307,000 reduction, the overall operating budget would be reduced to $84.2 million, resulting in an overall spending increase of $2.1 million, or 2.6 percent.

The $236,000 in school cuts would postpone hiring a high school career and academy coordinator, reduce a behavioral specialist’s position to part time and delay replacing athletic team uniforms, among other changes. The $71,000 in municipal cuts includes reductions in capital projects and compensation for planning, human resources and public works positions.

With the school budget proposal on the July 25 ballot, the overall property tax rate would increase about 48 cents, or 3 percent, from $15.92 to $16.40 per $1,000 in assessed property value. The annual tax bill on a $300,000 home would increase $144, from $4,776 to $4,920.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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