Southport selectmen propose $3,406,000 combined municipal and school budget

Residents to vote on proposed 2.7% spending increase
Wed, 02/12/2020 - 7:15am

Southport selectmen are proposing a 2.7% spending increase in this year’s combined municipal and school budget. Residents will vote on the 58-article town warrant at 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 2 in the town hall. The proposed budget is $3,406,000, a $91,632 increase. 

The proposed major spending increases include buying a new one-ton truck, the second of a multiyear contribution in funding year-round water for the town hall, and more public works funding. Selectman Gerry Gamage reported the board is recommending spending $75,000 for a new public works truck which would replace the current one. Selectmen are also seeking another $25,000 for the year-round water project. Last year, voters approved $25,000 for building a fund dedicated to extending a water pipe a thousand feet. Besides adding a pipe, the project includes road improvements so Southport can qualify for state funds. 

“We need to build up the road and lay the pipe under it,” Gamage said. “This project will take several years at a cost of a couple hundred thousand dollars. Rebuilding the road not only makes it safe, it  also helps us qualify for state funding because the road improvements must meet state requirements.” 

Selectmen are also recommending voters authorize $30,000 for the fire department’s capital reserve account. The account has $350,000, and selectmen plan on using reserves to buy a new fire truck at an estimated $500,000 in a few years. Selectmen are also looking to more than triple funding for the museum trustees. Last year, voters approved $5,000, but for 2020, selectmen are recommending $17,500. Selectmen are looking to replace a museum volunteer with a paid one. “Since the museum’s inception, Ronald Orchard served as the board’s chairman and oversaw the operations,” Gamage said. “He has stepped down from his historical committee service and we’re looking to replace him with a paid person on a trial basis.”

Selectmen are recommending increasing the town administration budget. In 2019, voters approved $150,300. Selectmen recommend $177,100 for this year’s budget. The proposed increase covers employee raises and benefit increases, buying a computer for the code enforcement officer, and digitization of tax maps.

The warrant’s first 19 articles all deal with school funding. Southport School Committee is recommending a $1,121,031 budget, a 5.4% increase. The biggest spending increase is for regular instruction. School officials are requesting $70,597 more in kindergarten through grade six funding. Alternative Organizational Structure (AOS) 98 Superintendent Dr. Keith Laser described the majority of the increase as covering “staff salary and benefit increases.”

Regular instruction also increased due to a staffing change. “We’re also moving a teacher from special education to regular instruction. There are fewer special education students for next year which resulted in moving the position to kindergarten through grade six instruction because that’s where the need is,” he said.

The proposed budget includes more elementary school tuition payments for Southport’s seventh and eighth graders. Elementary tuition increases from $71,710 this year to $126,814. Tuition costs are set by the state and Southport pays approximately $14,000 per student, according to Laser. While the number of Southport’s seventh and eighth grade students increased, the number of high school students decreased. Secondary tuition costs are dropping from $214,536 to $183,948. 

Municipal elections are held from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the town office. Three of four  municipal officers are seeking re-election. Seeking re-election are Gamage, Treasurer Gail Sprague and Water District trustee Smith Climo. Nicholas Ullo, the only newcomer, is seeking a school committee seat. All elected municipal terms are for three years.