SCARBOROUGH — On June 24, the Scarborough Town Council approved a $70 million budget that would have a 1.24 percent tax rate increase over the current budget if the public approves the school budget portion on July 14.

During various town and School Board meetings on the fiscal year 2021 budget that begins July 1, Scarborough teachers and residents voiced concerns about the council’s original goal of bringing the budget down to as close to 0% tax rate increase as possible, many fearing possible staff reductions and extracurricular cuts.

Resident Erin Rowen told the council, “in light of discussion around fairness between the town side and the school side, I’d like to give a gentle reminder that we are one town with one budget. … The debate shouldn’t be you versus me.”

Councilor John Cloutier acknowledged that the School Board and teachers are working on different goals for next year, especially as the details of reopening schools for next year are not clear yet.

In a public comment, Krystal Ash-Cuthbert, president of the Scarborough Education Association, told the council that Scarborough public schools would need more funds in order to navigate during this pandemic.

However, Town Manager Tom Hall said that in the final proposal that was approved, town and school layoffs have been greatly reduced, and sports and extracurricular activities have been restored.

“I want us all to appreciate the herculean effort to get to this point,” Hall said.

After the meeting, SMARTaxes, the Scarborough taxpayer advocacy group, released a statement saying that the organization does not support the school budget to be voted on July 14.

“Unfortunately, school leadership decided to go with the business-as-usual approach,” the statement said. “Next year’s total school funding (including capital) will require $1.2 million more taxpayer dollars than this year – an increase of 2.6 percent. As a result, the overall mil rate increase for the proposed budget is 1.24 percent. It could be 0 percent if the School Board had considered the taxpayers. And it can and should be 0 percent – without making Scarborough students ‘suffer,’ as some advocates of no-limits school budgets suggest.”

The COVID-19 pandemic shifted everyone’s expectations to what the expectations for the budget were, said Councilor Jean Marie Caterina.

“This has been the worst year for many reasons, not the least of which was this pandemic that got dumped on us in March, and we had to rethink everything,” she said. “I’m not thrilled with every part of it, but it does make sense.”

Cloutier, who voted against the proposal, said that he felt that the 2021 budget “merely manages” numbers to a level that the council is comfortable with but does not adapt to change.

“How do we ensure that our residents are able to survive next year and get the services that they deserve and expect, maybe in a different way?” he said. “And then how do we pay for that?”

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: