June 24, 2018
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Monson board urges RSU 68 to propose ‘zero budget’ increase for 2013-14

By Bill Pearson, Piscataquis Observer

MONSON, Maine — Selectmen believe RSU 68’s proposed $9,825,513 budget for next year is too big for its small, rural tax base. Board members told RSU 68 superintendent Alan Smith on April 17 that they wanted to see the $175,209 proposed spending increase over the current year eliminated.The increase represents a 1.73 percent rise, but due to less state funding, local taxpayers are being asked to pay more.

The four-town school district’s taxpayers are being asked to pay $305,262 more next year. The proposed budget represents a 7.73 percent increase in the district’s local share. The district’ two smallest members, Monson and Charleston, are both projected to be saddled with a double-digit increase.

Monson, with its 686 residents, is looking at paying $57,808 more to the school district which is an 11.53 percent increase, while the 1,400 Charleston residents would pay $53,314 more or 10.63 percent. The Monson Board of Selectmen told Smith that they favored a “zero budget” increase for 2013-14. The board urged Smith to reduce the budget proposal by the recommended $175,209 increase by eliminating staff, all noncontractually obligated raises and extra-curricular activities.

“A $57,000 increase for a small town like ours is something we can’t absorb,” said Selectman Shawn Nelson. “The two smallest towns have the lowest property valuations, but they are being hit with the largest increase. Something needs to be done about this.”

Smith explained the reasons for the town’s dramatic increase in their local share was two-fold. The state’s Essential Program Services formula is largely based on two factors: property valuations and student enrollment. The property valuations are based on two-year-old figures. Monson had two substantial land sales in 2011 which played a major effect on their valuation rising.

The other factor was due to Gov. LePage recommending changes in how funds were allocated for local education. LePage ordered a curtailment this year to deal with the state’s own fiscal problems. His order resulted in RSU 68 receiving $58,000 less in subsidies this year and next.

RSU 68 will also receive less in state subsidies due to a Department of Education calculation error. Smith indicated the district is due to receive $43,000 less than it previously expected. The district will also be paying more to the Tri-County Technical Center. RSU 68 received notification that its share had increased by $10,000. RSU 68 and 19 were the only two members to see an increase, while SAD 4, 46, 41 and Greenville’s all decreased.

“That’s $53,000 we have to come up with,” Smith said. “We are all asking ourselves where can we find that money.”

The current educational funding problems have been exacerbated by LePage’s funding priorities in his $6.2 billion biennial budget, according to Smith. Among LePage’s new proposals include using the $11 million Oxford Casino profits to fund “special projects.” The funds were originally designated for public education.

“I may never go to the casino, but I voted for the project, anyway,” Smith said. “Those $11 million were supposed to fund local education, but it’s going for other projects like $1 million for the charter schools’ legal defense fund.”

The RSU 68 budget committee will meet to discuss ways for cutting an additional $53,000 to offset recent budget changes.

“I’ll bring your concerns to the board. I can’t guarantee your local share won’t go down, but I will say it won’t increase,” Smith said.

The other RSU 68 members are Dover-Foxcroft and Sebec. Dover-Foxcroft’s local share increased by $159,695 which is a 6.69 percent increase. Sebec rose by $34,444 which is 6.14 percent increase. Dover-Foxcroft represents 59.7 percent of the district’s property valuation, while Monson is 13.19 percent, Charleston is 12.99 percent and Sebec is 14.03 percent.

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