VEAZIE, Maine — Town officials are fuming over an eleventh-hour hike in their Riverside RSU education assessment that, unless some way is found to offset it, could increase Veazie’s projected mill rate from $18.80 per $1,000 in property valuation to $19.55.
The unanticipated increase, along with what Veazie officials believe is a flaw in the school unit’s paperwork for its upcoming budget referendum, will be discussed during a Town Council meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at the Veazie municipal building, Town Manager Bill Reed said Friday.
Reed and the five-member Town Council already have put the finishing touches on a budget proposal for the coming fiscal year that held the town’s property tax rate at this year’s $18.80 level.
Four days later, however, Superintendent Doug Smith called the town office to inform Reed and other local officials that there was a problem with Riverside’s proposed budget that would increase Veazie’s assessment by $168,000.
Reed said this week that town officials were blindsided by the increase because they had been told earlier by RSU officials that Veazie education assessment would remain at this year’s level.
According to Riverside budget documents, the $21,356,217 budget proposed for next year reflects an increase of $1,272,758 from this year’s budget.
As Veazie officials see it, the increase is only part of the problem, Reed said Friday. He said that town officials believe that the cost-sharing formula that established the assessments paid by Veazie and the other member communities, namely Orono and Glenburn, is flawed.
In addition, he said, Veazie Town Clerk Karen Humphrey has determined the ballot for the RSU elections and the warrant for its June 14 budget validation referendum are defective because they lack the necessary signatures. If that is the case, Reed said, they will have to be reprinted and reissued.
“That’s likely also the case for Orono and Veazie,” Reed said Friday.
On Friday, Alison Mitchell, chairman of the Riverside RSU board, said that the school budget could not be finished until Wednesday, when the board ratified its first three-year teachers contract since the RSU was established in early 2009.
While MItchell said she sympathized with municipal officials, she said that Veazie’s assessment was based on cost-sharing formula that was worked out among member municipalities when the RSU was being formed.
Mitchell attributed the budget increases to teacher pay raises that were mandated as part of state consolidation law well as new programs that are being introduced in the fall. These include an alternative education program for at-risk high school students and a pre-kindergarten program.
“We’re obviously sympathetic. We’re doing the best we can here. There’s no secrets. There’s nothing to hide,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said that while those programs will require that the RSU fund them up front, they eventually will be reimbursed by the state and might generate a modest amount of revenue.
“The programs are so good for students. They really are the right things to do,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell also said that the cost-sharing formula will be reviewed in the near future.
“It is flawed and I think they knew at the time that it would create some challenges, but it is the formula that we negotiated,” said Mitchell.