Thursday, May 30, 2002

Cape approves compromise budget

Published in the Current

Before a largely quiet audience of about 40 people, the Cape Elizabeth Town Council Tuesday approved a compromise budget worked out by the finance chairs of the council and the School Board.

The town’s tax rate will increase by 94 cents, to $22.64 per thousand dollars of assessed value, of which $16.65, or 74 percent, will go to the school budget. The remainder will be spent on town services, community services and county government.

The budget was described by Council Chairman Anne Swift-Kayatta as one that “meets the needs of Cape schoolchildren and at the same time is responsive to the financial needs of Cape Elizabeth taxpayers.”

Several councilors thanked School Board member Jim Rowe for his comments at the earlier May 13 public hearing, and for his work to bring the budget to a successful compromise.

They also thanked him for his service on the board. His three-year term will expire in June and he did not seek re-election.

Rowe spoke during the public comments session of Tuesday night’s meeting, saying “there is more at stake here than a few thousand dollars. A strong inter-board working relationship is also at stake here.”

He encouraged School Board members and Town Councilors to seek “a renewed spirit of collegiality, understanding and cooperation” in the face of the larger picture of state funding cuts. Rowe has repeatedly warned that the state will cut more money from its funding to Cape Elizabeth in coming years.

Resident Sally Cox spoke in opposition to increasing taxes, and challenged the council to eliminate tax increases next year.

Cox also suggested having a Finance Committee made up of different people than the Town Council. Cape’s present Finance Committee is made up entirely of Town Councilors, with a different chairperson.

Councilor and Finance Committee Chairman Jack Roberts presented the compromise he had reached with the School Board.

“To be able to meet all the needs identified by the town and the schools simply is not possible,” Roberts said.

The town will buy a new high school walk-in freezer out of surplus money from this year’s municipal budget, and will allow the schools to use $70,000 in its budget surplus to cover some expenses next year. The schools expect a savings of $33,000 in energy and telephone costs, and have made some additional cuts, in funding for field trips, maintenance, and athletics at the high school and middle school, as well as central office supply, materials and advertising expenses.

The budget was approved by a vote of 6-1 with Councilor John McGinty dissenting. McGinty said he did not expect any budgetary help from the state, especially with a new $180 million shortfall. “They’re gong to try to balance their budget on our backs,” he said.

He and others recommended the town and the schools spend money
conservatively, to increase flexibility in the event of future state funding cuts.

In other business, the council:
Tabled the elimination of the townwide spring cleanup, for a savings of $15,000, pending a fuller review of the town’s waste management operations.
Approved the budgets for the town’s special funds, including the Riverside Cemetery, Spurwink Church and Fort Williams Park funds.
Approved increases in a range of municipal fees, including permit charges, parking fines and rescue fees, which were increased to the level paid by Medicare for ambulance services.
Heard a presentation from the Cape Elizabeth Middle School Student Council and received three prints of a painting by Jamie Wyeth of firefighters raising an American flag over the ruins of the World Trade Center. One each of the signed prints will be displayed in the fire station, police station and town hall.
Heard from Chairman Swift-Kayatta that Portland Head Light has been designated a National Civil Engineering Historic Landmark.