MILLINOCKET, Maine — Town leaders without much discussion approved a $6.63 million school budget Thursday that holds the local taxpayer contribution to last year’s levels.
The Town Council approved the budget with a series of votes that were mostly unanimous and set a school referendum vote for Aug. 28. The polls at Stearns High School will be open that day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The most dramatic dissent came from resident John Dicentes. Dicentes said that too much money was being spent on schools in a town where the population continues to decline and about 60 percent of the residents are senior citizens like himself.
“I think there should be some more cutting on there on all the items before it even gets to the polls. It is just way too much money for this town to take on right now,” Dicentes said during the meeting.
Millinocket, he said, has some promising economic developments expected in the next year. Thermogen Industries LLC is on track to start construction on Katahdin Avenue this fall of New England’s first torrefied wood facility. The facility is expected to create 22 to 25 new jobs and support existing logging work.
But those jobs, Dicentes said, are as yet promised, not delivered.
The proposed budget is about $106,755 larger than the 2011-12 budget. It anticipates an increase of $264,135 in nonlocal revenue sources and a $157,380 cut to the local taxpayer appropriation. It includes an $80,000 cut to the undesignated fund balance allocation.
During the budget deliberations, Councilor Richard Angotti Jr. questioned spending $1.13 million on school maintenance. He said that amount was too high. School Superintendent Kenneth Smith said that the money will pay for a lot of necessary work.
“The high school is the size of a Super Walmart,” Smith said. “I think the amount being requested is prudent.”
The vote on that budget item was 5-1-1, with Angotti opposing and Councilor John Raymond abstaining.
Though not directly part of the budget deliberation, councilors voted 7-0 to approve acquiring a $1.5 million tax anticipation note. The money, Town Manager Eugene Conlogue said, would help cover for about $720,000 in state education funds Gov. Paul LePage ordered withheld from the town.
LePage blamed Millinocket leaders’ decision to not honor an agreement to share operational costs for an East Millinocket landfill over several years. The landfill’s operation was crucial to the LePage-engineered revitalization of the Katahdin region’s two paper mills.
Town leaders denied LePage’s accusation. They said they only agreed to help pay landfill costs for one year and opted not to cash a $504,000 check state officials sent the town as part of the state’s attempted settlement of the dispute. A lawsuit filed by Millinocket against the state in the dispute is pending.
Councilors agreed to fund the shortfall with town money.