VEAZIE, Maine — Storm clouds are forming over Veazie as the proposed budget for the coming fiscal year heads toward a public hearing set for 6:30 p.m. Monday night.
Chief among the budget issues dividing the community is Veazie’s school budget. The matter has been getting so much attention in the community that the venue for Monday’s hearing has been changed from the Town Council Chambers to Veazie Community School.
Adding to the tensions are state biennial budget proposals put forth by Gov. Paul LePage that could mean less state revenue and the fact that Veazie is entering its first year as a standalone school unit.
Some residents say the town is spending too much to run Veazie Community School, that teachers’ salaries are out of line with other schools of similar size and that Veazie’s per pupil cost is thousands of dollars over the state average.
Others, including school officials, say that budget cuts already have been made and to make further reductions would hurt students.
“The main contribution to our higher than average [per pupil cost] is not our teacher pay — it is a combination of factors, some of which we can’t control, some we can. However, what is known is the high quality of our school and the value it brings to our community,” Susan MacKay, a member of the town’s interim school committee, said Friday in an email.
James Parker, one of the residents who has been following the budget process, said he wants to see what the school committee proposed to cut to meet the council’s directive.
“There is plenty of room in the school budget to meet the cut without reducing teaching staff,” he said.
As it stands, town officials have developed a $1.97 million municipal budget proposal that reflects a nearly $148,000 reduction from the current town budget, Interim Town Manager Mark Leonard said on Friday.
The initial rounds of cuts included a decision not to have a full-time town manager and a full-time police chief, instead opting to have Leonard continue to divide his time between the two roles for a savings of about $45,000.
The police and fire department budgets also were reduced, as were community investments, contributions to reserve accounts and solid waste removal, which will cost substantially less because the town’s contract with its service provider was renegotiated, Leonard said. In addition, the town decreased its sewer assessment from $150,000 to $110,000, he said.
The budget proposal stood at $2,043,880 until Monday night, when councilors made another $64,000 in reductions, including the elimination of the town’s last remaining public works position, a $19,000 cut in the recreation budget and a $12,000 cut in the administration budget.
Councilors also authorized the sale of 1991 fire engine, the oldest in the fire department’s fleet, as well as the fire chief’s vehicle, a move they expect will bring in as much as $50,000 in revenue, 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 from this year’s local burden.
During a special council meeting on April 29, town councilors voted 3-2 to direct the school committee to trim another $200,000 from its budget proposal. On Tuesday, however, the school committee identified only $100,000 in reductions — for a 6 percent drop in the local portion — saying that any more would hurt the quality of local education.
In a letter sent to parents this week, the school committee said they believe their previous budget proposal was “fiscally responsible and, most importantly, good for our students.”
Among the items cut were field trips, Science Camp, professional development for teachers and upkeep for the school building.
“To cut another $100,000 from the budget would mean losing one or more of our teachers and cutting additional school activities, such as sports, clubs and music,” the letter said.