The Cape Elizabeth Town Council voted this week to pass the municipal budget and send the school budget to voters next month, but not before one councilor said she was unhappy with the school budget, which is up more than $1 million compared to last year.

“I’m really concerned that our school budget has increased,” said Councilor Valerie Deveraux.

Despite those concerns, the board voted unanimously May 10 to approve the $16.8 million municipal budget and to send the $29.8 million school budget for voters’ approval June 8.

Town Manager Matt Sturgis said the combined gross budget, including the county portion, stands at $48.4 million. That budget, he said, after factoring in revenues, requires raising $35.9 million in taxes, a 2.86% increase over last year. Based on the current rate of $19.92 per $1,000 of home value, Sturgis said, the increase means the rate will go up by 57 cents. For the owner of a $300,000 home, he said, that amounts to a $171 increase to the annual tax bill.

Increases to the municipal budget include replacing capital improvement projects, such as a new backhoe loader and upgrades to the Kettle Cove boat launch, that were shelved last year to allow large cuts to the 2021 budget due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sturgis said.

School Board Member and Finance Committee Chairperson Phil Saucier said the school budget includes three new full-time teachers, one each at Pond Cove Elementary School, the middle school and the high school.

Described as “math interventionists,” Saucier said the positions will address concerns about academic performance brought on by restrictions on instruction caused by the pandemic. Saucier said the proposed school budget also assumes the district will go back to in-person instruction five days a week starting this fall, and includes additional expenses associated with doing so.

Neither the town budget nor the school budget met with public criticism at a May 3 hearing and during the public comment portion of the May 10 council meeting. During a discussion among the councilors of the school department’s budget, however, Deveraux noted the school’s gross budget has been going up steadily since 2019, with an increase of nearly 6% for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school year budgets, with a nearly 5% increase planned for 2021-2022.

Deveraux said she feared that at the current rate of increase, the school budget would effectively double by 2029 compared to 2019.

“I just don’t see how that’s sustainable,” Deveraux said.

Other councilors defended the proposed 2022 budget, including Council Chairperson James Garvin.

“This is one of the smaller increases that we’ve seen in the last number of years,” Garvin said. “You always want it to be as low as possible, but I think this is one of the better jobs that both the town and the schools have done in the last several years.”

Councilor Nicole Boucher said 85% of the school budget includes salaries, and often those increases are the result of collective bargaining agreements. Boucher, added, however, that she was sensitive to the need to keep expenses in check, and called on officials and the public for suggestions going forward.

“I welcome any creative solutions,” Boucher said.

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