SCARBOROUGH — For the first time in recent history, the town is going into the annual school budget validation referendum without any significant controversy.

The proposed $56 million budget, an increase of $4.4 million over the current year, requires a tax rate increase within the 3% limit sought by the Town Council, and has won the qualified endorsement of a group known for its staunch opposition to prior budgets.

The referendum is June 11, when residents will also be asked to vote on whether they want to continue voting on the school budget for another three years.

Another school-related question will ask voters if they favor a plan to join the Greater Sebago Education Alliance Regional Service Center.

The School Board last week unanimously accepted the school budget as amended by the Town Council.

The combined municipal and school budget of $68.8 million, a 4% increase from this year’s $66.1 million, will require a 2.99 percent tax increase over this year’s tax rate. Gross operating expenses for the town increased by 5.2 percent over the prior year’s budgeted level, while school gross operating budget expenses increased by 6.0 percent.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that the Town Council worked with the School Board to protect our investments and saw the value in our investments this year,” School Board member April Sither said during the May 16 meeting. “They were truly our allies in this process. We do feel like this is a responsive and responsible budget and we’re proud to bring this forward to the community.”

The school budget has a history of not being approved on first pass at the polls. Approval took two referendums in 2012, three votes in 2013 and two in 2014. The budget was rejected again in 2015, and again in 2017. In 2018, voters narrowly approved the budget by 98 votes.

The combined budget adds 49 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to the property tax rate. Taxpayers will provide $2.7 million more to the town and schools in fiscal year 2020 than in the current year, although Town Manager Tom Hall said the number is likely to change after a residential property revaluation is completed.

Councilor Shawn Babine cast the dissenting vote in the council’s 6-1 budget approval May 15. He said the overall budget doesn’t tell a “full or accurate story.”

“We have purposely told everyone that we’re not allowed to talk about the residential revaluation that could add up to an additional $600 million in value that impacts our tax rate. … That’s not being transparent,” Babine said.

The grassroots group known as SMARTtaxes, or Scarborough Maine Advocates for Reasonable Taxes, which has been critical of budgets in the past, on May 17 issued a qualified endorsement of the school budget because the town achieved the 3% tax-rate limit.

However, the group advised voters to be wary of certain budget items, including $6.6 million of new debt to cover capital spending and a 6% increase in school gross operating expenses.

It also said the more than $1.1 million in increased funding received from the state could have been used to reduce the burden on taxpayers.

Referendum voting will take place at Alumni Gymnasium at the high school on June 11, from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Early absentee balloting is available at Town Hall during regular business hours.

Krysteana Scribner can be reached at [email protected] or 780-9094. Follow her on Twitter: @krysteana2016.

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