NEWPORT, Maine — For the third time in 4½ months, residents of eight towns that make up RSU 19 voted to place an emergency loan on a referendum ballot.
However, the loan has been shot down twice before.
During a meeting at Nokomis Regional High School on Monday night, residents voted 95-29 to place the $2.8 million loan on the March 8 ballot. In November, a $3.6 million loan was denied, and a $2.9 million loan was denied last month.
“This was step one of a two-step process to get this issue before the voters,” said RSU 19 Superintendent Greg Potter after the vote.
He said he was encouraged by the result.
“To have that level of support is very encouraging,” said Potter. “We need to get this taken care of — debt associated with past issues. To carry that forward into future [budgets] doesn’t make any sense.”
The 124 votes on Monday night were fewer than the 208 votes cast in January and 233 in October.
Because of serious errors in previous budgets, RSU 19 has a $3.6 million shortfall this school year. The district already has cut $1.6 million from the budget for this school year. RSU 19’s board of directors previously voted to ask residents for a $2.8 million stabilization loan. The district would use $1.5 million to repay its revenue anticipation loan to Androscoggin Bank, while the other $1.3 million would be used to pay bills.
Potter explained Monday night how the district wound up in the situation it is in and Business Manager Jerry Nault explained to attendees what the potential tax impact may be of the $2.8 million loan over the course of a 10-year repayment.
Based on a 10-year loan with a 3.7 percent rate loan, the equivalent mill rate impact on Newport taxpayers would be $0.43. For Plymouth, it would $0.38.
Nault said a property in Newport valued at $50,000 last year likely will see a tax increase of $21.59 per year, or $1.80 per month. For a property valued at $100,000, it would be $43.18 per year, or $2.70 per month.
Nokomis teacher Bill Freudenberger said he moved to the district because it had a good reputation.
“I’m worried that this good place may not be here much longer,” he said in front of the crowd. “What I see with this loan is the lesser of two evils. [The loan] stinks, it’s a lousy situation, but it’s better than the alternative. The alternative is a shutdown to push payments down the road to help us meet obligations, [but it’s] an extremely poor education practice. It’s going to be a bad situation for our kids.”
He said RSU 19 now has a poor reputation because of the budget shortfall.
“We’re going to lose good people. We’re going to lose property value,” said Freudenberger. “I believe that cycle will continue and it’s going to cost more in the long run if we don’t take care of this. With a strong, supported school our communities will prosper.”
Somerset County Commissioner Robin Frost of Palmyra said the towns have not had an opportunity to voice their opinions on the loan.
“What we need to do is not pass this. Stall the vote until the rest of the towns have the opportunity to meet because this meeting has been railroaded to force a vote through before the public has had the time to gather forces and speak their piece in the town halls,” said Frost.
Potter, Nault and members of the RSU 19 board of directors will continue to meet with area towns to discuss the loan and next year’s budget.
The schedule of public meetings is:
• Corinna, 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26, at Corinna Elementary School.
• Palmyra, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 27, at Palmyra Community Center.
• Hartland, 7 p.m. Monday, March 4, at Hartland Consolidated School.
• Etna and Dixmont, 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 5, at Etna-Dixmont School.
• St. Albans, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 6, at St. Albans Consolidated School.