Next year’s school and municipal budget proposals would increase Falmouth residents’ tax bills 5.4%, with the school budget accounting for the majority of that rate hike.

The new tax rate would be $17.97 per $1,000 of assessed value, up 92 cents over the current tax rate of  $17.05.

If the budgets are approved, the owner of a $500,000 home would pay an additional $460 in property taxes next year, according to Town Finance Director Pete McHugh.

The proposed $41,020,986 Falmouth school budget, an increase of $1,544,059 over last year, makes up 58 cents of the tax rate increase. On the municipal side, the tax rate would go up 33 cents for the proposed $15,706,379 budget. The county tax is increasing by 1 cent.

Schools

Existing personnel costs account for most, $890,521, of the proposed school budget increase, school officials said last week at a joint of the School Board and Town Council. That includes health insurance increases and personnel contracts that are still in negotiations, including secretaries and ed techs, bus and custodial positions and teachers.

New personnel, including new hires and promotions within positions, represents $589,280 of the increase, and other expenditures ranging from software to supplies total $64,258.

The proposed $41,020,986 school budget is up 3.91% over this year’s budget of $39,477,027, which had no effect on the tax rate last year as cuts were made to reduce tax impact in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year the board reduced $800,000 in the budget to meet the hope of no mil rate increases, a number of these items are coming back because the needs stayed,” School Director of Finance Dan O’Shea said at the meeting.

Additional positions include a librarian and tech specialist for the elementary library ($85,000), an additional music teacher ($17,000), and positions for the Bridge ($85,000) and Jumpstart Summer ($12,000) programs.

“The music teacher is a return request from last year,” O’Shea said. “This is a scheduling issue, we don’t have a music teacher on Mondays, which creates issues with instruction and planning across the week.”

The Bridge program helps students who lack safety at home to do school work or to get to school, while the summer program helps students who have fallen behind.

“Even before COVID we also had an early learning program to help students with the start in the fall, and that’ll be acute this year for a summer program to have students reintegrate for the fall,” O’Shea said.

The budget also has space for a “quarter class” teaching position at $17,000.

“They are opportunities for students that are not full year-long courses or semester but engage students with high interest with meaningful authentic learning,” Director of Learning Gretchen McNulty said.

Classes could range from astronomy-based science classes to the science of maple trees and tapping for syrup. 

An additional groundskeeper for $50,000 is also necessary as outdoor classes will return this fall. There is now one groundskeeper for the campus.

At the same time, O’Shea said their nutrition program suffered a loss of $300,000 due to a lack of students eating at school during the pandemic. Previously, the program tended to make money, one of few school nutrition programs operating in the state to do so.

“We have kids half the time and there isn’t a way to do lunch safely without prepackaged items so it’s not the same,” O’Shea said. “The state knows about it, we’ve talked to representatives, but we couldn’t use COVID money to offset the revenue loss. That was one of the rules of funding.” 

Municipal

The proposed municipal budget is up by about 14%, or $1,895,230, over this year’s $13,811,149 budget.

The majority of the municipal budget increase is due to the creation of a full-time fire department, a $4 million project that will impact tax rates over five years.

“Excluding Fire and EMS, the mil rate would not have increased this year,” Poore said at the meeting.

Since August last year, the department has added 14 firefighters, totaling about $1.4 million. In the next few years, an additional 14 firefighters will be hired and a $560,000 expansion to the fire department to accommodate them is planned.

A public hearing on the budgets was scheduled for April 7 at 7 p.m. on Zoom, after the Northern Forecaster’s deadline.

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