YARMOUTH — The Town Council on June 11 unanimously adopted a $43.3 million combined town and school budget for fiscal year 2021 that could increase taxes 2.4%.

That hike could raise Yarmouth’s tax rate from $18.86 per $1,000 of property valuation to $19.32, which would add $180 to the tax bill for a median-priced Yarmouth home assessed at $400,000. In light of the economic challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, town and school officials made extensive cuts to the spending plan since winter when a $45.1 million budget with a 7.95% tax hike was under consideration.

With Town Meeting canceled this year due to the pandemic, the budget goes before Yarmouth residents at referendum July 14; voters can either file absentee ballots or vote in person at Yarmouth High School.

Also going before voters July 14 is a “Supplemental Emergency COVID-19 Response” appropriation for Yarmouth schools that would add $450,000 to the budget. Superintendent Andrew Dolloff listed in a June 4 letter to the School Committee and Town Council a variety of likely costs associated with pandemic protections in the coming school year, such as face coverings for staff and students; Plexiglas shields in serving lines, office spaces and some classroom settings; air sanitizers, thermal scanners and hand sanitizer.

Dolloff also foresaw the need for three professional development days to prepare for school reopenings this fall and one day for trauma response training for each school.

If the extra $450,000 is included in the budget, the tax rate would rise to $19.59, a 3.85% hike, according to Town Manager Nat Tupper. A $400,000 home would see a $292 tax bill increase.

Bill Harke of Ledge Road, one of the few residents to speak during last week’s public hearing, pointed out that the Town Council had recently asked the School Committee to cut $250,000 and questioned “how we can be assured that the extra $450,000 is not a backhanded way to get the $250,000 back into the budget.”

The language regarding the $450,000 “is very specific about the purposes of that allowance,” Tupper said. “It is only for COVID-19 … unanticipated expenses.”

The funding would only be used after spending any funds received from the state or federal governments toward COVID-19 measures and unused funds at the end of fiscal year 2021 would go toward Yarmouth’s Tax Stabilization Fund and applied to future budgets to reduce tax burdens for school support, according to the town.

Amy Anderson of Ledge Road supported the COVID-19 funding, saying, “I don’t believe it is a workaround; I think it’s a necessary part of the social climate and our dealing with the things that are going to affect our teachers, our administration, our students and their families.”

The total $43.3 million budget includes $28.9 million in school funding (up 8.7%), $13.1 million in town expenses (down 1.28%) and $1.2 million for Cumberland County tax (up 6%).

“We all spent a lot of time talking about this budget and debating it and we all had different perspectives on what we wanted, what we didn’t want in it,” Councilor April Humphrey said. “But … we all really came together in the end and I feel like this budget represents a really good compromise of all of our priorities.”

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