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The Art of the Possible

The Art of the Possible

Council Corner: The Art of the Possible

By Don Hamill, Town Council 

The first day of summer is approaching and the end of our annual budget process.  My fifth round as a councilor dealing with it. 

Our Town Council FY2024 goal is as close as possible to +3% mill rate increase, or a 15.85 mil rate (percent of taxes per $1000 of assessed value). Nearby towns are dealing with similar challenges. Recent budget approvals, however, have exceeded 5% in some towns including Cape Elizabeth and South Portland. 

Are we addressing the right priorities?  Are we focused on the most critical issues?  It’s clear we have a space problem in our schools and have had over a decade to solve it.  A recommendation has been made for a “Unified” K-8 school expansion and land project.  It may require capital expenses of $137.5MM+.  At the same time, we are discussing a $35MM+ Community Recreation Center and other investments in our parks, parking, and recreational facilities in the next few years.  We have yet to analyze the full costs and benefits for the town in our biggest commercial partnership with the Downs launched in 2018.  

Common sense and our official roles demand that we be prudent in the financial obligations we make for our town. We need to keep our annual expenditures and debt as low as possible - to build our cash reserves and fund balances.  We need to control our capital, facilities, equipment, and operating budget increases. We need to defer or cancel nonessentials.  We need to avoid making new complex deals that may have far-reaching consequences for our fiscal health and long term financial, social, and environmental sustainability. 

Here's what you can do to help:

1. Get involved.  We’ve made great strides in our efforts to engage and involve the public.  We have more opportunities for engagement and involvement than ever before – highlighted by the vast number of Town Council, Statutory, and Ad Hoc Committees. Let’s be a part of the solution, not part of the problem.  

2. Be more efficient.  There are new needs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.  We need to be economical in our deployment of resources by both the schools and the town.  Help us find ways to: economize and eliminate waste; improve efficiencies in services; and manage our town and school assets and expenditures better.

3. Respect our competing interests and roles.  I watched a recent Board of Education meeting in which they reviewed their mission as members.  Their responsibility - to serve the best interests of students - is both admirable and unlimited in principle. They are accountable primarily to our students and the school department.  The Town Council and Town Manager and Staff – through the Council- are accountable however to the general public for our overall budget.  

Let’s get our own financial house in order first before we ask the good people of Scarborough to approve any major expenditures and investments that could result in historically high tax increases and doubling our debt burden.

We cannot meet all wants and desires - but with focus, hard work, and determination together we should be able to get what we need.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Scarborough Town Council.