SOUTH PORTLAND ?— Voters on Tuesday approved a $52.3 million school budget and a $7 million bond to replace the Cash Corner fire station.

According to City Clerk Emily Scully, 1,191 ballots were cast and voter turnout was 5.7%.

“I’m very happy the school budget passed, but I am disappointed by the low voter turnout,” School Board Chairman Richard Matthews said. “I wish more people would come out and vote on important things like this.”

The fiscal year 2020 school budget, approved 846-341, is up $2.3 million from current spending. It requires a 3.41% tax increase and relies on an increase in property tax revenues from $42.9 million to $44.5 million.

The cost is partially offset by an anticipated $600,000 increase in state aid to education, to $6.8 million. It would be the second-highest amount of state aid in six years.

Superintendent of Schools Ken Kunin said total non-tax revenue is up by 5.25% this year, but will still be down 4.75% next year from fiscal year 2018. He said this shows the state subsidy has not kept up with school expenses.

He also said the budget uses a three-year average for the state’s valuations of city properties, instead of two years, and relies less on department reserves than it has in prior years.

The budget will use $250,000 of $1.48 million in surplus from the fiscal year 2018 budget.

The proposed budget adds a special education teacher to the middle and high schools and eliminates three vacant educational technical positions.

Capital spending improvements total $814,000, with just over $300,000 reserved for iPads, laptop computers and other student technology resources.

Debt service stands at $4.5 million.

The combined municipal and school budgets will add 42 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to the property tax rate, while increasing overall spending by 4%. The overall city property tax rate is anticipated to be $19.17 per $1,000 of assessed value, an increase of 3.6%, with $12.74 of the rate funding education.

Voters also elected to continue the school budget validation referendum for another three years, 817-353.

Borrowing for the new fire station, approved 799-391, will appropriate $6 million to replace the current fire station with a new one and be repaid over 20 years.

The remaining $1 million, to be paid over 10 years, would be allocated for work at the Central and West End stations, as well as the Police Department on Anthoine Street.

According to city Finance Director Greg L’Heureux, the bond debt service is estimated at $2.38 million and will add at least 15 cents to the property tax rate.

The existing Cash Corner station, at 360 Main St., has mold problems and inadequate ventilation. At 17,000 square feet, its replacement will be more than twice the size of the existing station and will require discontinuing a portion of Rumery Street.

It would provide space for an additional rescue unit and allow the call station on Union Street in Thornton Heights to be moved to Cash Corner.

The new building will sport a traditional-style fire station look, with masonry brick on the outside, and the possibility of solar energy panels on the roof.

“It was a 2-1 margin that voters approved it, and we’re appreciative of that support and happy people turned out to vote,” City Manager Scott Morelli said. “We’ve been dealing with the mold issue for a while now, and I don’t have to live in the conditions like those firefighters do. We’re finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel and we’re ready to move forward with the process.”

The $7 million bond referendum had a first reading April 2. A public hearing was held April 16. At both meetings, the City Council voted 7-0 to send the question to voters.

According to Assistant City Manager Joshua Reny, the engineering team for the project indicated the current proposed zoning parcel spans two zones, with the front half in a Limited Business District, and the rear half is in a Residential A District.

The zoning proposal had its final approval at a June 4 meeting. The city has filed an application with the Planning Department for project review, which should be ready by the end of summer.

If the process goes smoothly, construction could begin between October 2019 and December 2020, and the new station could be ready for occupancy in 2021.

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

South Portland voters Tuesday approved a $52.3 million school budget and a $7 million bond to replace the Cash Corner fire station. Polling took place at the Community Center on Nelson Road.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: