Facing budget shortfalls, the Rockport Select Board has directed its town manager to build a municipal budget that takes any education-related increases into account.

Some board members maintain the move is to prevent any increased burden to taxpayers. Town Manager Robert Peabody wonders, however, how the town can also take school costs, which are administered by an entirely different governmental entity, under consideration.

Altogether, Rockport taxpayers are spending $11 million to fund town, school and county entities this fiscal year, an amount that resulted in a 2.27 percent property tax increase from 2008 to 2009. Last year, the town cut municipal spending by $131,000 or 3.2 percent, in order to ease taxpayer pain.

Rockport taxpayers fund several separate governments: the town, Knox County, and the two public school districts — the Five Town Community School District and Maine School Administrative District 28. The Five Town CSD oversees Camden Hills Regional High School, and SAD 28 oversees public schools with grades kindergarten through eight.

The town is currently operating on a $3.9 million budget; SAD 28, on a $12.5 million budget; the CSD on an $11.5 million budget; and the county on a $9.1 million budget. Rockport voters decide whether to approve those budgets separately at June town meeting and at the ballot box.

At the Jan. 11 meeting of the Rockport Select Board, members Tom Farley and Dale Landrith said that by building a municipal budget that registers increases in the school budgets, taxpayers might be more encouraged to attend school budget meetings and vote those spending packages down if they contained proposed increases.

Farley said the town can no longer say that all municipal programs are a necessity.

“We’ve got to look at the budget and see what we can slash,” said Farley.

Landrith said the economy is forcing the town to do just that.

“There needs to be a reduction, not a sum zero,” he said.

Farley said there are town departments that the board knows run efficiently, but there are other departments to scrutinize. He suggested the town keep in mind any increases in school costs when formulating the town budget to ensure that overall, there is no tax increase for the coming year.

Board Chairman Bob Duke said the town has always looked at areas to save money when formulating budgets. He said he was staying quiet because he didn’t necessarily agree with the views being expressed.

School officials are projecting a $1 million loss in subsidy for the Five Town CSD and another $250,000 loss for SAD 28. The districts should receive preliminary figures from the Maine Department of Education in February, said the districts’ business manager, Cathy Murphy.

In addition, Gov. John Baldacci has submitted a supplemental appropriations bill to bridge a $400 million gap in state finances. Last year, the state took $44 million from revenue sharing to balance the budget. This year, the governor has proposed to take $27 million by cutting $12 million from the current year and $15 million next year from revenue sharing, town officials have said.

The town of Rockport is estimating a $56,000 loss in revenue sharing money.

Landrith estimated that the tax burden would be increased by about $200,000 for Rockport taxpayers.

Board member Bill Chapman questioned why the town should make up the difference because of the schools. He said voters must get out and vote on the school budget, just as they do the town share.

Peabody said that when formulating the town budget the goal is always to keep the burden of the taxpayers in mind as far as town spending, but he is unsure how to also take school costs into consideration.

“Like the schools, we deliver a service, too, and I’m not clear on why we are carrying our burden and the school’s burden to stay flat,” Peabody said.

Landrith said he was not saying it was possible, but the town could not keep increasing the burden on taxpayers and might be forced to reduce municipal services.

Peabody said he does not want to be in a position of having to lay people off because of the schools.

Farley said they were not saying to do that, but the discussion illustrated the severity of the situation.

“The schools really are a major problem,” he said.

“To keep the cost of living the same, you’ve got to go after the schools,” said Landrith. “Hopefully, this will motivate citizens to do it and we will do our part municipally.”

Rockport Police Chief Mark Kelley reminded board members that his department already was reduced in budget and size in 2008 when an administrative assistant position was revised to share duties as part-time patrol, which resulted in the elimination of one full-time patrol position.

“I already made some sacrifices not so long ago,” Kelley told the board.

Peabody said Jan. 13 that he asked Rockport Finance Director Virginia Lindsey to communicate with the schools’ business manager to obtain the best estimate of state subsidy loss.

The Herald Gazette Reporter Kim Lincoln can be reached at 236-8511 or by e-mail at klincoln@villagesoup.com.