Thursday, April 3, 2003

Trash costs boost Cape budget

Published in the Current

Citing higher-than-expected waste disposal fees, fuel prices and inflation rates, Cape Elizabeth Town Manager Mike McGovern told the Town Council Monday that their request for a 2 percent tax increase cap was too small, and asked for more for both the town and the schools.

He had previously presented a budget that raised taxes 1.7 percent, but that was based on an assumption of $115 per ton for trash disposal, already an increase over this year’s $110 per ton. The total spending in that budget was up $83,176.

Before Monday’s workshop council meeting, McGovern met with Regional Waste Systems Manager Chuck Foshay, who told him to expect the price to be more like $128 per ton, resulting in additional cost of $46,800 to the town.

“Half the municipal budget increase is already going to extra dumping fees,” McGovern said.

He expressed serious concern that much-needed infrastructure maintenance was left out of the budget. “A smaller tax increase might be preferable,” he said, but asked, “at what cost?”

Cutting things now will make it even worse in the future, he said. “There aren’t going to be any chances for reinstatements” in the next few years. “It really worries me,” he said.

He proposed a municipal budget increase of 2.25 percent, adding $77,000 back into the budget. Much of that would cover RWS fees, and the rest would restore the town’s hazardous materials collection.

Leaving out the hazardous materials money could result in environmental damage from illegal dumping in town, McGovern said. A further $15,000 would be “in play to go somewhere into the system,” if unforeseen expenses arise, he said.

McGovern also went to bat for the School Board, which has approved a budget with a 2.5 percent tax increase.

The school budget is $61,000 above where councilors had asked for. “It’s not really all that much money,” McGovern said.

“Is it realistic to adopt a school budget that is 1 percent less than inflation?” McGovern asked councilors.

The impact of inflation, reduced debt costs, future space needs and school enrollment all need careful consideration, McGovern told the councilors, as many members of the School Board listened from the audience.

There remains a need for kindergarten space, as well as “a significant issue with the aging of the high school,” he said.

Several members of the public also spoke. Three encouraged increased fiscal restraint, and one targeted the county budget as a particular problem.

“I think the spending is way out of control,” said Herbert Dennison. He urged an overall 3 percent decrease in town spending.

Gerald Sherry, a former teacher, told councilors many people in town do not have the proper stickers required for access to the town dump. McGovern later agreed, telling the council he was one of those people.

Patrick Babcock told the council he supported reinstating the hazardous waste collection, but remained concerned about the elimination of DARE, which he called “the only program, I believe, that addresses the issue of substance abuse in the Cape Elizabeth school system.” In a town that has a tendency to overlook the problems its children have with drugs and alcohol, he said canceling DARE was sending the wrong message to children and parents.

Superintendent Tom Forcella and School Board Finance Chairman Elaine Moloney also spoke, saying the schools had cut quite a bit and tried to be “creative” with how money was spent. Forcella defended additional school spending to help marginal students graduate from high school, saying other towns are worse off already.

“In some of those towns, 50, 60, 70 percent of kids just aren’t going to graduate from high school,” he said. Cape has projected that 15 percent of its students won’t graduate from high school without additional help.

Moloney said she is concerned about the long-term impact of low school funding. “Treading water,” she said, is not what the schools want to be doing. She also urged council support of the school building projects.

“You can delay capital improvement, but it never really goes away,” she said.

Susan Spagnola spoke “on behalf of the children,” and asked councilors to approve the schools’ budget request. When coming up with the 2 percent cap, she asked, “did you take into account the quality of education?”

She acknowledged the tough budget times, but said, “this does not mean we should abandon the needs of our children.”

The council will hold workshops on various parts of the budget April 2 and 7, at 7:30 p.m., and April 17, at 6 p.m., to accommodate people who no longer drive at night. The School Board will present its budget April 28 at 7:30 p.m.