Tax concerns spur meeting

Posted Sept. 16, 2008, at 7:22 p.m.

ST. GEORGE, Maine — Believing residents will pay too much in taxes under the proposed school reorganization plan for SADs 5 and 50, town officials have scheduled a public meeting for Thursday.

The local members of the reorganization planning committee for SADs 5 and 50 plan to speak about the process and the potential implications of the reorganization plan.

SAD 50 consists of Thomaston, Cushing and St. George, and SAD 5 is made up of Rockland, South Thomaston and Owls Head. The new regional school unit would serve about 2,300 students from the six communities.

Both SAD boards approved the reorganization plan in mid-August, but all three St. George representatives on the SAD 50 board voted against it because they said the method of devising the cost-sharing formula among the six communities in the new regional school unit would increase St. George’s taxes.

The reorganization planning results from legislation passed earlier this year requiring Maine school districts to find ways to consolidate administrative functions.

The plan was submitted to the state Department of Education, and Education Commissioner Susan Gendron returned it with a letter rejecting parts of the plan and offering comments and notes to assist the committee in completing its work.

The school boards made the changes and sent the revised plan back to Gendron on Sept. 12.

The changes did not address the cost-sharing method, one official said.

Terry Driscoll, St. George representative on the Reorganization Planning Committee, said it is hard to digest what the implications of the cost sharing will be for the long term.

“What we do know, based upon current data, there will be a tax increase — absolutely,” he said.

As a result of the cost-sharing formula, he said, “about $300,000 in savings for St. George went away. After the phase-in period, the annual taxes in St. George will go up $100,000. That’s a $400,000 shift per annum.

“We were also dissatisfied with the formula for changing the formula that we’d agreed to,” he said.

Another problem is that the valuations of St. George, South Thomaston, Owls Head and Cushing have been growing for the past six or seven years at a rate of 70 percent to 75 percent faster than rates in Thomaston and Rockland, he said.

“The four issues are change in representation, cost sharing, loss of local control and method of changing the cost sharing,” Driscoll said.

John Spear, business manager for SAD 50, said that of the six towns, the two traditional factors in calculating costs tend to be valuation and pupil count.

“We have two towns with relatively low valuation per pupil — Rockland and Thomaston,” he said. “We have two towns where the valuation and pupil count are roughly the same percentage — Cushing and South Thomaston. And we have two towns that have relatively high value per student — St. George and Owls Head.

“It’s fair to say, that the more you rely on valuation in a formula, that is a positive impact to Rockland and Thomaston; and vice versa, the more you rely on student count, that’s a positive for St. George and Owls Head,” he said.

“As long as you’re using those two factors, what benefits one is going to hurt the other,” he said.

He said the committee tried to work out a compromise.

Currently, the towns’ costs, which are those outside the Essential Programs and Services funds provided by the state, are shared in SAD 50 on the basis of 50 percent valuation and 50 percent student count.

In SAD 5, the costs are based 100 percent on valuation.

The compromise the committee worked out was to phase in sharing costs by 75 percent valuation and 25 percent student count, Spear said.

“There’s no question that St. George will pay more on the alternative plan that the committee worked out, than they would have under the default in the law.

“Whether they’re going to pay more than they’re paying now, that’s not necessarily true,” he said.

The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 18, at the town office in Tenants Harbor village.

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