VEAZIE, Maine — Town officials plan to attend Riverside RSU’s May 31 annual budget meeting to air concerns and grievances about the unit’s budget development process and the cost-sharing formula that sets assessments for its member towns of Veazie, Orono and Glenburn.
Town Council Chairman Rod Hathaway also encouraged residents who attended Monday’s council meeting to go to the annual school budget meeting set for 7 p.m. in the Glenburn Elementary School gym.
Local officials have been fuming since May 13, when they received word from Riverside Superintendent Doug Smith that Veazie’s share of the regional school unit’s budget would be more than $160,000 higher than they had been told previously.
The news came four days after town councilors held a public hearing on their budget plan, which held the tax rate at $18.80 per $1,000 in property valuation and was based in large part on assurances that the education tab would remain at or near this year’s level.
“This is a huge, big deal for the community,” Hathaway said during Monday night’s meeting.
“To go through the entire budgetary process and be told by administrators that there would be no financial impact [on Veazie taxpayers] and then at the eleventh hour … you get handed a bill that is [well over what school officials stated previously] … that impacts every one of the homeowners in this community, is outrageous,” he said, later adding, “And then to find out after the fact is unbelievable.”
It wasn’t yet clear what town officials can or will do about the increase. One option is to address perceived problems with the cost-sharing formula. Another is to dip into the reserve funds set aside by member towns when they consolidated.
During Monday’s meeting, the three council members present said they wanted a legal opinion.
They also refused to sign a warrant for Riverside’s budget validation referendum, set for June 14 in each of the member towns, until receiving more legal advice. An earlier version of the warrant submitted to the town lacked signatures and contained errors. A signed and corrected version was delivered to the town office Monday morning.
In an interview last week and in a subsequent email, Riverside RSU school committee Chairwoman Alison Mitchell pointed out that Riverside has not asked for a tax increase from member towns in the past two years.
She said the increase slated for this year was due to a combination of increased state valuations for the three towns, which means less state aid, and the recently approved teachers contract, which included raises.
She said that while the budget does include some new programs — including an alternative education program for at-risk teens and a half-day prekindergarten program — the impact of those programs on taxpayers will be minimal.
Mitchell agreed that the cost-sharing program is “flawed” but pointed out that it was worked out by representatives from all three member towns. She said that the formula will be revisited later this year as required under state consolidation law.