Scarborough Town Manager Tom Hall said he is “very confident” that the town’s proposed combined 2022 budget of $77.1 million, an increase of 9.79% over last year, can be cut back to meet the town council’s request for a maximum 3% increase.

“I have full expectations that the council, through its review, will get back to its 3% goal,” Hall said this week.

Hall and School Superintendent Sandy Prince presented the budget to the council Wednesday, marking the beginning of work sessions to fine-tune expenditures.

Hall Portland Press Herald file photo

“We’re getting our arms around it,” said Town Councilor John Cloutier, who also chairs the council’s finance committee.

Hall said the gross municipal budget stands at $39.3 million, and the gross school budget is $58.2 million. After factoring in revenues, the total proposed net budget stands at $77.1 million, an increase of 9.79% over the $70.2 million 2021 budget.

Hall noted, however, that officials are anticipating an increase in property values townwide, which will offset the increase. Assessors won’t know for certain where values stand until mid-August, he said, but the budget includes an estimated $90 million increase, which would mean the overall increase to the tax rate to cover the budget would drop to 7.74%.

Based on a 7.74% increase, Hall said, the tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value would climb from $14.86 to $16.01. For the owner of a $300,000 home, he said, that means an increase to the tax bill of $345.

Hall was quick to add, however, that the budget will likely be cut before voters face the June 8 referendum on the school budget. He said he is “very confident” that in budget workshops and meetings scheduled for the coming weeks officials will pare the combined budget down enough to meet the council’s 3% increase goal.

Hall said the 2022 budget is an attempt to recover from massive cuts to the budget last year, prompted by economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This time last year, we had great uncertainty about what the future would hold,” he said.

Cuts last year included most of the town’s $2.4 million capital improvement budget, including $775,000 for a fire truck, school and library expansion and renovation plans totaling $500,000, and $2 million for turf and track replacements at the school, Hall said.

“We mothballed pretty much our entire capital plan,” he said.

Prince said this week that the ongoing pandemic has made the budget process particularly challenging.

“That on top of what we lost last year, we’re just trying to produce a budget that moves the organization forward,” he said.

Prince said the proposed school budget includes hiring five new teachers, two at the middle school and three at the Wentworth School. Prince said he was confident the district could afford the teachers, despite the pressure to cut costs.

“I think the community wants reasonable class sizes,” he said.

Cloutier said he wasn’t surprised to see the size of the proposed 2022 budget, given the cuts that came last year.

“We’re seeing some of the rebound now,” he said.

The council is expected to do its first reading of the 2022 budget on April 14. A budget workshop, followed by a public hearing, is scheduled for May 5, with a final reading expected on May 19.

Cloutier said the council will work to trim the budget to a more reasonable increase.

“We’ve got some work to do, but I’m confident we’ll get there,” he said.

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