Earlier this year, a resident in one local community told elected officials that the budget increase they were proposing for Fiscal Year 2021 was too high for a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has put pressure on the economy and individual taxpayers alike.
Then, last month, residents of one local school district overwhelmingly advanced its proposed FY21 finances during their annual budget meeting, paving the way for voters to have their final say at the polls.
Which scenario best captures the mood of voters throughout the region, as they prepare to weigh in on municipal and school budget proposals later this month? Hard to know. But local officials this week said they are hopeful voters will approve their municipal and school budgets — final proposals that were, in some cases, re-crafted under the stressful economic conditions that this historic pandemic has wrought.
Kennebunk Town Manager Michael Pardue, for example, said the pandemic has taken a toll on communities everywhere.
“As the pandemic advanced, thoughtful measures were enacted to include a freeze on large expenditures and a freeze on hiring of personnel,” Pardue said of Kennebunk’s efforts, which included one permanent layoff and multiple temporary layoffs.
In this climate, voters will determine their community’s finances for the coming fiscal year.
Voters on July 14 will be asked to pass a net budget of more than $9,866,000 for FY21, an increase of more than $486,000, or 5.18%, over the budget for FY20.
“The town’s goal is to always meet the needs and expectations of our taxpayers and visitors,” Pardue said. “This proposed budget allows for us to achieve that goal, while at the same time demonstrating sound fiscal management by staff, Budget Board and Select Board.”
In April, the select board and budget board revisited their initial proposal through the lens pandemic. The process resulted in total cuts of more than $417,000 from the original proposal, Pardue said. Also, the budget board approved using nearly $315,000 from the town’s general fund balance, resulting in a net budget increase the same as first presented in February.
“I believe the budget being presented allows us to meet the service level desired and expected by the inhabitants of Kennebunk,” Pardue said.
More information on Kennebunk’s budget proposal is available on the town’s website.
Town Treasurer Jennifer Lord said Kennebunkport’s proposed municipal budget of $9.55 million, an increase of nearly $291,000 over the FY20 budget, likewise reflects cuts made due to the pandemic.
Residents will vote on the budget warrant articles during an open town meeting at Kennebunkport Consolidated School on Saturday, July 18, at 9 a.m.
About $1 million was slashed from the original proposal as a result of the pandemic, Lord said. Cuts were made on the expense side, and adjustments were made on the revenue side, she said. Cuts ran from $200 in office supplies to roughly $550,000 in capital improvement funds.
“Just about all line items were adjusted,” Lord said.
Asked if she was hopeful voters will approve the revised proposal, Lord said she think the town “came in reasonable to what we were hearing.”
“We took everything into consideration, and we cut where we could,” she said.
More information about Kennebunkport’s budget proposal is available on the town’s website.
Voters will head to the Mildred L. Day Elementary School’s gym on Wednesday, July 15, at 7 p.m. to vote on the $3.78 million budget approved by selectmen and budget board members. The amount calls for an increase of $176,000, or 6%, over the FY20 budget.
According to Town Manager Keith Trefethen, the budget does not include any cuts made in response to the pandemic.
“We’re very conservative in our budget projections,” Trefethen said. “We’re asking people to provide us with the operating budget we may need.”
Trefethen said the town has placed a few members of its staff on furlough. He said selectmen will continue to monitor finances and make more furlough decisions, if necessary.
Article 26 in the town meeting warrant seeks to authorize selectmen to use up to $100,000 from the town’s fund balance to help reduce the tax burden when they set the new rate in August. The article is in response to the pandemic’s effect on the economy.
“We’re hoping to keep the tax rate close to the current one,” Trefethen said, referring to the present figure of $16.30 per thousand of valuation.
Trefethen expressed hope that voters will OK the budget on July 15.
“I think what we try to do is provide an honest portrayal to the taxpayers,” Trefethen said. “Voters have been supportive in previous years. We’re hoping they’ll continue to look at our thoughts and processes and continue their support.”
More information about Arundel’s budget proposal is available on the town’s website.
Voters on July 14 will have the final say on a proposed FY21 budget that comes in at $23,175,000 and represents a 3.8% increase from the previous fiscal year. The proposal stands at about $174,000 under LD1, the state’s tax cap, according to Town Manager Jonathan Carter.
Carter said the town did not make any pandemic-prompted changes to its original budget proposal but did add a bond issue to the town meeting warrant. The bond proposal seeks $4.5 million for infrastructure projects, the need for which “came to light earlier this year,” Carter said. The projects involve reconstructing a road, addressing a drainage issue at an old subdivision, replacing the Drakes Island Bridge and repairing seawalls.
“We feel that the revenue picture that we have painted is realistic,” Carter said.
Carter said the town has “tools available to us,” should any economic challenges occur. Provisions in the town charter will allow selectmen to address budget concerns in the coming year, “if things are not looking the way they should.”
Carter, too, said he is hopeful voters will approve the municipal budget.
“Our budget is as low and as appropriate as it should be,” he said.
More information about the Wells budget is available on the town’s website.
The $9.1 million municipal budget voters will address on July 14 is a revised one taking concerns about the pandemic into account, according to Town Manager Patricia Finnigan.
Originally, the budget called for an increase close to 3% over FY20, Finnigan said. Now, the proposal before voters seeks a 1.7% increase of less than $159,000.
Finnigan said the proposal is considered an “austerity budget,” devoid of new capital projects and requests for new equipment funding, with an eye on keeping the current tax rate of $8 per thousand of valuation.
The revisions were made in recognition that the pandemic likely will affect the town’s top revenue generator, tourism, as various health and safety restrictions remain in place in Maine and elsewhere, Finnigan said.
Finnigan said she hopes voters will see that members of the select board and the budget review committee “put themselves in (their) shoes” and created a budget that “preserves all key services and keeps the tax rate the same.”
Finnigan said if the FY21 budget does not pass, the town would revert to FY20 finances, which were actually higher.
“This budget is flat-funded or budget-cut in a number of departments,” Finnigan said.
More information about Ogunquit’s budget proposal is available on the town’s website.
Regional School Unit 21
Voters in the three RSU 21 communities — Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Arundel — will vote on a $51.7 million school budget that marks an increase of 3.03% over the previous fiscal year but reflects $771,000 in cuts that were made from the original proposal.
The school board made those cuts in May as a result of the pandemic’s economic strain on the school district.
“I believe that a great deal of work has been completed … in an effort to present a fiscally responsible budget to our residents,” Interim Superintendent Dr. Steven Marquis said.
Residents from all three RSU 21 communities handily approved the proposed financing during their annual budget meeting at Kennebunk Elementary School in June, advancing the budget to the polls.
“I think people really trusted in the work and in the transparency we put forth,” said Marquis. “I believe the school board presented a budget that reflects the needs of the district as we seek to provide a quality education that the community has come to expect and rely on. I’m hopeful that it passes.”
More information about the RSU 21 budget proposal is available on the district’s website.
Wells-Ogunquit Community School District
Voters in WOCSD will address a $27.7 million budget on July 14. That represents a 2.6% increase over last year’s budget. Superintendent James Daly said the district is proposing that $435,000 in undesignated funds be used to offset the increase.
“This will take the increases from 2.6% down to 1% for both Wells and Ogunquit,” Daly said.
Daly, too, said he is hopeful that the district’s FY21 budget will be approved.
“The community has been extremely supportive of our schools, historically,” he said. “The community has been tremendous through this pandemic.”
The district will hold its annual budget meeting at the Wells Junior High School Gym at 1470 Post Road on Wednesday, July 8, at 5 p.m.
More information about the WOCSD budget proposal is available on the district’s website.
Sanford School Department
Voters in Sanford on July 14 will give the final answer on the Sanford School Department’s proposed $55.88 million budget for FY21. Assistant Superintendent Steven Bussiere said that represents an increase of 3.67% from FY20.
Sanford School Committee Chair Don Jamison said the budget on the ballot will be the original one, reflecting no adjustments in response to the pandemic. Jamison said school officials have had discussions and even a workshop about potential cuts that might be necessary in the coming fiscal year.
Jamison acknowledged that there might be curtailments from the state and that it has not yet been determined how federal funds from the CARES Act might offset any financial difficulties.
“There are a lot of unknowns,” Jamison said. “We’re definitely cognizant of the financial strain.”
Jamison said he is hopeful that voters will OK the proposal.
“We’ve been lucky in Sanford,” he said. “People support the education system. It’s the budget we put forth before the pandemic hit, but we’re hoping the taxpayers still have the faith in us to make fiscally responsible decisions.”
More information about the Sanford schools budget proposal is available on the district’s website.
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