RSU 26: Position cuts to make up for $2M budget gap could cripple schools; tax hikes requested

By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff
Posted Dec. 04, 2011, at 6:13 p.m.

GLENBURN, Maine — There isn’t much good news in next year’s RSU 26 budget. RSU officials are predicting job cuts and are asking for tax hikes in Glenburn, Veazie and Orono to make up for a nearly $2 million budget shortfall.

“I sincerely wish that I could come to you with better news than what I’m here to share,” Susan O’Roak, a member of the RSU’s board of directors, told the Glenburn Town Council Thursday night.

O’Roak said RSU 26 officials began working on the budget early, in October, because they knew the findings would be hard to swallow.

State subsidy money for next year has been slashed, federal funding has expired and the carry-forward money — or the amount of surplus money each community brought into the RSU at its formation three years ago — is almost depleted.

A letter to residents of the RSU written by Superintendent Douglas Smith calls the situation a “perfect storm of financial difficulties.” Those letters should reach households within the RSU early this week.

In the end, the RSU will come up about $2 million short next year — about 10 percent of its overall budget.

The only way to save that kind of money, according to RSU officials, is through “painful” cuts to labor costs and increasing taxes in the RSU’s towns.

“There is no way to find the savings we need to find when 80 percent of our expenditures are salary-related,” RSU 26 board chairwoman Alison Mitchell said last week. “We can’t come up with this kind of money without cutting some positions.”

Mitchell said those lost jobs could be custodial, administrative or anything in between.

Without any tax increases, the RSU estimates that Glenburn schools would lose 12.5 positions, Orono schools would lose 16 and Veazie schools 9.5. Those losses would cripple some schools and cause education to suffer, officials said.

To avoid that, the RSU has visited town councils in Veazie, Glenburn and Orono to fill them in on the situation and request a 1-mill tax rate increase in each town.

With a 1-mill hike, Glenburn would lose six positions, Orono would lose nine and Veazie four, according to Smith.

“I must say, I’m pretty disappointed with a request for a tax increase,” said Glenburn Town Council Chairman Michael O’Connor. He said Glenburn voters have rejected several calls for tax increases in the past, and that residents are hit harder by those hikes because there are fewer businesses in town to share the burden.

O’Connor said he understood the position the RSU is in, but suggested “very strenuously” that they have a secondary plan in case the the towns reject tax increases.

“We’ve come to the cliff,” O’Roak said, “and there’s no place left to go.”

Mitchell and O’Roak said there is no way the RSU would consider or ask for more than a 1-mill increase, and the hike will hopefully be less.

RSU 26 plans to make its budget final by April 1, 2012.

The RSU board will hold its regular meeting at 6:45 p.m. Dec. 14 at Veazie Community School. Next year, it will meet nearly every Wednesday until the budget is finished.

A full list of meetings, which are open to the public, is available at riversidersu.org.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/12/04/news/bangor/rsu-26-officials-predict-position-cuts-tax-hikes-to-make-up-for-2-million-budget-gap/ printed on July 29, 2014