OK, folks. With the big Public Budget Forum coming up on Wednesday evening, April 29 at 7pm at the High School, it’s time to go for broke. Hopefully you have submitted a question or two via the Town’s electronic submission form. If not, here’s the link. And here are three final, desperate, Hail-Mary, at-the-buzzer questions launched from the other team’s foul line:
1. To the Town Council: Since State law requires a vote on the School budget each spring, why not also have a vote on the municipal budget at the same time? No additional cost and more citizen participation – what’s not to like?
2. To the Board of Education: What responsibility, if any, does the Board of Education have in developing a school budget that is affordable for taxpayers in the community? If taxpayer affordability is one of the factors used in producing the school budget, what standards or criteria does the Board employ in evaluating whether the budget is affordable or not?
3. To the Town Manager: If all the capital items (projects and equipment) included in the budget are approved, what will be the approximate increase in debt service related to those items in FY 2017? (Remember, those capital budget items that get financed with debt – about $3.3 million this year – have to be paid back with interest by Scarborough taxpayers starting next year. So the new debt will automatically and unavoidably increase our tax rates in FY 2017 and beyond.)
Remember, questions don’t have to be about technical items in the budget. They can be more philosophical or even rhetorical… like “How the hell do you expect me to come up with another 8.5% for my taxes?” Click here and ask away!
Beware of “the good news!”
[Cynicism alert! If you are easily offended by snark and cynicism, please skip this section.]
One of the first orders of business at the Public Budget Forum will very likely be the announcement of “good news on the budget front.” Yes, after a month of “hard work” and “difficult choices,” we expect that the Town fathers and mothers will have whittled down the proposed tax increase from the obscene 8.5% to something in the 4% to 5% range. Oh, hallelujah! Be still my beating heart!
Why, one may well ask, wasn’t the new budget increase the starting point on April 1?
And, please, we beg of you, do not refer to the reduction from 8.5% to whatever the new number is as a “cut!” Nothing has been cut! An inflated initial request has merely been reduced from the grotesque level to the merely obnoxious. Words matter!
For the sake of argument, let’s say that the tax increase associated with the new, slimmed-but-still-obese budget is a mere 4%. Remember that inflation, as measured by the CPI-U, for the twelve months ended March 31, 2015 was -0.1%. Compared to an inflation rate of essentially zero, even a 4% increase is huge. Especially when one considers that the property tax bill is the largest — or one of the largest — single expenses many families have. (And we don’t care how few cups of coffee a week this increase translates into!)
A Tale of Two Meetings
There are two significant meetings coming up this week: The first, on Wednesday, April 29, is the “Public Budget Forum” at the High School auditorium (which we hope is already in your calendar!). The other, the very next night, is the School Department’s “Community Dialogues” to be held at the Wentworth School. Hmmm…
Here’s a handy chart to compare and contrast the two meetings:
In short, the Budget Forum is being held in a much larger than necessary venue with less publicity than that of a bean and casserole supper at the Grange Hall. And the taxpayers won’t get to enjoy the comforts of the posh Wentworth cafeteria… or get to admire the $40,000 glass sculpture. (Yes, we admit to being cynical at times. Perhaps justifiably so?)
In our last issue you will recall that we announced a “Best Question” contest in conjunction with the Public Budget Forum. No sooner had we pushed the “send” button than our Director of Contests, Mark Goodson, burst into the office yelling: “Stop! Don’t send it! We used the wrong contest!” But, alas, the deed was done. As Mark explained, and we agreed, the contest should have identified the best answer given at the Budget Forum. Imagine the categories we could have had! (Most honest, most evasive, etc., etc.) We may make these awards after the Forum anyway.
Speaking of the contest… to say we have not been swamped with entries would be a gross understatement. At the current rate, your humble editor will be treating himself to a mess of clams at Ken’s Place later next week. So get those questions into the Town website and send us a copy to be eligible for the prize.
• The new trash tax, aka “Pay as You Throw,” has been consigned to the rubbish pile, at least for now. Let’s hope there is some genuine “community dialogue” before it reemerges. Well done to all who made their feelings known to Town officials! And thank you to the Town Council for listening to the citizens. (For the article in the Leader, click here.)
• The “allocations to outside agencies” (basically donations to various local charities) were budgeted at $60,000 in FY 2015. They were “only” budgeted for about $14,000 in FY 2016, not the $79,415 that appears as “2015-16 Requests” in the budget booklet. And even the $14,000 appears to be up in the air since the Town really doesn’t have any procedures in place for making donations of our tax dollars to public charities. Works for us – let’s all make donations to the charities of our choices, not those selected by the Town.
• In this week’s Current, a riveting article on: “Dispelling Scarborough School Budget Myths.” Please give it a look.
A tip of our cap to two Scarborough High School grads:
2011 graduate and valedictorian Alex Colville – Featured in the Current for co-authoring two research papers while still an undergrad at Northeastern University.
2015 graduate-to-be Nate Howard – Featured in the Leader as a talented lacrosse player who will be enrolling in the U.S. Naval Academy next year.
Congratulations to both!
That’s all folks! See you Wednesday evening at 7pm at the Public Budget Forum at the High School auditorium. (Bring your own munchies as no “light dinner” is anticipated.)