Scarborough’s budget season this spring was messy with the revaluation rearing its ugly head, leading to multiple rounds of late cuts from the town and school’s original proposals.

The Town Council’s Finance Committee met in a joint workshop with school officials and school board members last week, where officials agreed that the overlapping town-wide revaluation put them at a disadvantage and forced them to react quickly.

Anderson

“We acknowledged the reval was going to make it hard to set a mill rate goal, but we didn’t really understand at the time all the things associated with the reval and how that was going to impact the rest of it,” Town Councilor Jon Anderson, chair of the Finance Committee, said at the June 13 workshop.

School board Vice Chair Frayla Tarpinian said the process was “chaotic” due to the multiple rounds of cuts.

“Every time we tried to meet a target that was set, and we put all of our energy into meeting that target, that goalpost was moved back,” Tarpinian said. “It didn’t just happen once; it happened multiple times in the process … Of course things happen, but it felt this year that it was very chaotic.”

Town Finance Director Norman Kildow said “the reval consumed us this year,” which led to cuts and last-minute conversations about finding different sources of revenue, such as TIF funding and the town and schools’ fund balances.

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“I think it wasn’t a unique year (overall), but it was a unique year from that perspective,” Kildow said.

School board Chair Shannon Lindstrom said she thinks the town and schools do a good job of communicating general details about the budget to the public, but it would help to dive into more specifics – especially around the long-term impacts of different investments. She named a new position at Wentworth that can help students avoid the need for special services as one example.

“At the forefront, that position, what it gets us is a decrease in the number of students who need special services,” Lindstrom said. “We’re able to intervene before they rise to the level of special services, so, at the end of the day, that’s money saved for the district.”

Town Councilor Donald Cushing, a member of the Finance Committee, said he would like to see updates and workshops from different departments on the budgets earlier on.

“Reserving some time for department heads and the school to come before the council over the course of the year to update us on key highlights so that this is more of an ongoing conversation” would be beneficial, he said.

The town currently presents its budget to the council in net form. Cushing said they should “begin the conversation with the gross budget, and have a separate conversation about revenues, which gets us to the net (budget).”

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Councilor Karin Shupe emphasized the importance of the town and schools staying on the same page throughout the process. While councilors and board members are encouraged to attend each other’s meetings regarding the budget, she said, it’s difficult to attend all of them.

“Maybe designate some, or have something a little more specific, for councilors,” she said, noting she watches replays of the board meetings online but “it’s different than being there and asking questions.”

Shupe also suggested hosting meetings in neighborhoods and with homeowners associations to help get a wider variety of direct input.

While there are ways to improve the process, councilors and board members acknowledged they have a good foundation to build on.

“We have really good, on both the town side and the school side, finance employees and business managers that really help to drive this process forward in a way that makes sense and is understandable to most,” Shupe said.

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