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Drop in tuition students helps Orrington leaders with budget

Posted March 07, 2013, at 8:14 p.m.

ORRINGTON, Maine — School leaders learned this week that a drop in the number of tuition students heading off to high school has helped them avoid some budget problems other communities in Maine are facing under the governor’s proposed biennial budget.

“Right now with this budget we’re in good shape,” Superintendent Allen Snell said Tuesday while presenting a draft of the school budget for fiscal year 2013-14. “What is saving us is a reduction in our tuition. We’re anticipating 17 fewer tuition students.”

The reduction in high school students has resulted in a savings of $229,600, a drop from $873,600 the school department paid this year to $644,000 for next year, the draft budget shows.

“This budget represents a $19,000 decrease,” Snell said of the preliminary $6.27 million school budget. “However, the local appropriation is increasing $101,000 or 3.51 percent.”

The school is asking for more money to pay for education because the state is sending them $93,724 less, and there is a need for a new third-grade teacher, Snell said.

Student population figures from the sixth, seventh and eighth grades show decreased population numbers, which means, “we’ve got three years [of low tuition expenses] and then it is going to start to go back up,” the superintendent said.

Even with the nearly $230,000 tuition expense removed, the community is still taking a hit, Town Manager Paul White said Thursday after calculating the combined school and municipal budget based on “rough” estimates.

Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed $6.3 billion biennial budget includes a two-year suspension of the state’s municipal revenue sharing program that offsets municipal property taxes, and other budget changes designed to shift tax burdens from the state to local communities, town leaders said.

“The impact is $320,000,” White said. Currently, “It would look like 91 cents [added] to the mill rate, or 5.5 percent [increase].”

Those who own homes valued at $200,000 in Orrington would see an estimated “$500 increase in their taxes,” the town manager said. “That’s 18 percent more than what they’re paying this year. For a $100,000 home, it’s $310 or around 23 percent [increase].”

If the governor’s proposal is endorsed by legislators, “we’d have to take a look at where we can cut. We have not had those discussions at this point,” White said. “Right now, we’re sitting back and seeing what the legislators do.”

The overall budget for both the town and school is only increasing slightly under the current projections, White said.

“Combined, it’s a $34,000 increase,” he said. “That’s a 0.36 percent increase.”

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