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Cape Elizabeth budget proposes 4.2 percent tax increase

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Posted: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 1:07 pm

CAPE ELIZABETH – There may be a little pain in the pocketbook even for Maine’s most affluent community, at least if the municipal budget unveiled to town councilors Monday remains unchanged through final adoption April 26.

Although municipal spending is down $93,000 – largely from shifting the $250,000 municipal pool budget off the town books and onto community services – a $611,127 hike in school spending, and a $328,310 dip in anticipated revenue, means Cape Elizabeth’s net budget as it affects taxes will jump $1.08 million, or 4.2 percent, to $26.01 million.

That’s good for a 4.2 percent hit to the property tax rate, which would jump 64 cents to $15.82 per $1,000 of valuation, assuming assessments do not change substantially by the April 1 commitment date.

As things stand now, the hike means the median home in Cape, valued at $314,000, can expect a $201 hike in property taxes.

But for the drop in revenue, actual new spending is up 2.4 percent, or $750,129 – almost entirely on the school side. Other increases include the community services budget, up 133.7 percent thanks to the addition of the pool, and the county tax bill, up $6,089.

According to Town Manager Michael McGovern, the reassignment of the pool is an “accounting change” done primarily for management purposes. Previously, pool workers were part of the municipal budget, but reported ultimately to school officials.

“The chain of command is a lot clearer and simpler now, or at least it will be when all this is approved,” said McGovern.

In what he called an “apples-to-apples” comparison, McGovern said the $8.83 million municipal budget (down $93,000) would have been up $255,125 if the pool had not been shifted to the community services budget.

On the municipal side, payroll costs are up $147,781, based on raises ranging from 3 to 3.4 percent. A part-time clerical position was eliminated, saving $11,420. However, this position was replaced by a 25-hour-per-week administrative assistant in the school department, costing $42,826. The line-item for professional and contractual services is up $63,560, or 8.1 percent, “due to more contracting being done with the school department, including for clerical services for the facilities department,” wrote McGovern, in his budget narrative.

Nearly two-thirds of the school increase – $400,344 – is due to a previously contracted 2.4 increase in salaries and benefits. Teaching staff in the district will be entering the second year of a three-year agreement.

Fortunately, a $452,524 hole created by the evaporation of federal jobs bill money used to plug holes in the current budget is more than offset by an expected $480,000 hike in Medicaid revenue.

However, while teacher pay is the largest dollar bump in the budget, the biggest percentage hike, by far, is instructional support, up $354,764 – or 49.6 percent. Most of that increase – $117,664 – is dedicated to out-of-district placement for special needs students. By law, a school district must tuition these students to an appropriate facility if it does not have means to provide the required care.

Other increases come from additional budget juggling. For example, middle school athletics, previously run by community services, returns to the school budget with a $173,723 price tag – up $33,004 (23.5 percent) from last year.

The loss of $272,286 in state subsidy dollars also will drive Cape Elizabeth’s $21.7 million school budget to a 3.4 percent increase overall.

Welcome to the discussion.