Veazie council’s directive to cut education budget angers residents

By Dawn Gagnon, BDN Staff
Posted May 08, 2013, at 10:30 p.m.

VEAZIE, Maine — With a goal of holding property taxes, town officials have their scalpels out and are in the process of making some difficult budget cuts — at least one of which is proving unpopular with some in the community.

The council’s vote last month directing school officials to cut another $200,000 from next year’s education budget is angering some residents.

Residents who believe the town’s small school could be operated for less money — and those who say further cuts would hurt the quality of local education — are expected to turn out to a public hearing on the proposed 2013-14 budget set for 6:30 p.m. Monday.

The decision over what dollar amounts will be put before voters in June is the council’s to make.

As it stands, town officials developed a $2,043,880 municipal budget proposal that reflects a nearly $83,500 reduction from the current town budget. On Monday night, town councilors cut another $64,000 from the budget and authorized the sale of the fire department’s oldest fire engine, Interim Town Manager Mark Leonard said.

Meanwhile, school officials had proposed a $4,394,547 gross budget that called for $2,904,082 in local dollars, a roughly 3 percent drop in this year’s local burden.

During a special council meeting on April 29, however, town councilors voted 3-2 to direct the school committee to trim another $200,000 from its budget proposal. The town’s budget committee had previously recommended a $100,000 cut.

On Tuesday, members of the town’s interim school committee and several of the roughly 30 people who attended their meeting grappled with the $200,000 directive.

Chairwoman Janine Raquet said further cuts threatened to hurt education in Veazie, noting that Veazie has a small school, but one that has become an asset. Veazie Community School recently received an “A” grade on Gov. Paul LePage’s recently released report card for Maine schools, she noted.

Nonetheless, by the end of Tuesday night’s three-hour meeting, the committee had identified more than $91,000 in additional budget cuts and asked staff to find another $9,000 by reducing amounts budgeted for contingencies.

While it was only half of what the council sought, Raquet said it was “a good faith gesture.”

In an interview on Monday, Leonard noted that this spring’s budget building process has been an unusual one for Veazie.

For starters, Gov. Paul LePage has put forth a state biennial budget plan that would mean less state funding for Maine’s municipalities. The governor’s proposals include, among other things, the suspension of the state revenue sharing program and major limits on the homestead exemption and circuit breaker property tax relief programs.

In addition, Leonard, who also is the town’s police chief, has developed numerous budgets for his own department, but this is his first townwide budget.

On top of all that, Veazie school officials are developing their first budget since the town voted last November to pull out of RSU 26, a regional school district they joined three years ago.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/05/08/news/bangor/veazie-councils-directive-to-cut-education-budget-angers-residents/ printed on July 14, 2014