2016-06-10 / Community

School budget called ‘dishonest’ by city resident

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — Although South Portland does not experience anything like the organized outrage to annual school spending increases seen in neighboring Scarborough, one man is still trying to secure a no vote at the June 14 budget validation vote.

Colchester Drive resident Albert DiMillo has been a frequent and long-standing critic of South Portland’s school budget. A retired CPA, he also opposes the munici- pal spending plan. But that’s done for the year, leaving residents with little recourse under the city council form of government.

However, state law gives the taxpaying public a direct say in the school budget, and DiMillo said he hopes voters will reject the school department’s proposed $47.8 million budget for the coming fiscal year. DiMillo has called budgeting practices of both the city and school "dishonest," and said a no vote may finally force greater scrutiny into how the school uses various reserve accounts, a topic he’s complained about for years, and which he says violates state law, because the school board never seeks voter authorization to sweep leftover funds at the end of the year into various reserve accounts often dedicated to target spending other than the line-items originally approved by voters.

“I have estimated that this year’s actual school costs will come in at least $600,000 under budget,” DiMillo said. “The school knows the exact number now, but will not release it, which means the 2017 budget is overstated by at least the same $600,000. In addition, the 2017 budget did not use the $400,000 extra in state funds received during the current fiscal year that the school said at the time would be carried forward to the 2017 budget.

“These three items alone mean the 2017 taxes for the school are overstated by $1.6 million. This is just another dishonest budget as in the past that will create surplus in excess of state law,” DiMillo said.

“I understand he has a lot of training,” city Finance Director Greg L’Heureux said earlier in the budget season, when asked about DiMillo’s complaints. “And I’m happy to meet with him and go over this any time, but he just needs to understand that budgeting for schools and cities is a lot different than budgeting in the private sector.”

Although he has long levied the same claims, this past budget season DiMillo changed up his tactics, from excoriating city and school officials to simply asking questions, hoping the answers would speak for themselves.

However, to date, DiMillo never got a formal answer to any of his questions posed to the city council, despite assurances given by Mayor Tom Blake, who at one point suggested he might request a council workshop on the topic.

“The school superintendent also has refused to answer any of my questions,” Di- Millo said.

Whether or not voters will join DiMillo in his quest to obtain those answers by voting down the school budget and forcing the school board’s hand remains to be seen.

However, it seems clear somebody is against the idea. Last weekend, all of the yard signs DiMillo placed urging a no vote on the school budget were torn up and stolen.

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