MILLINOCKET, Maine — Town voters are deciding Tuesday whether to accept a proposed $6.2 million budget, which is $322,000 less than the spending plan sought by the school board.
With member Matthew Farrington opposing and member Arnold Hopkins absent, the school board voted 3-1 on June 18 to approve a proposed $6.63 million budget.
The budget was $2,247 less than the 2012-13 budget but represents a $70,000 increase, from $3.2 million to $3.27 million, in local appropriation town taxpayers would pay, officials have said.
Many cuts were made to keep spending down next year including relocating the alternative education program for grades nine to 12, saving about $73,000; three full or part time custodial positions that drew about $83,000; and about $51,000 for a special education director’s program that Smith will fill himself, officials said.
Nine accounts that paid for postage, office supplies, field trips and professional training were cut, saving $14,000. The school board had proposed cutting heating-fuel expenses by about $66,780 but restored a little of that, officials said.
Facing a $3 million to $4.5 million cash shortfall, the Town Council opposed the budget. Councilors voted 4-2 last week to pare $322,000 from the school department’s budget. Councilors Michael Madore and Richard Angotti Jr. opposed.
Superintendent Kenneth Smith has said the $6.2 million budget left by the cut would harm education by forcing the elimination of five teacher positions and three programs.
Councilors disagreed. They and Matthew Farrington believe the cutting of the $322,000 from $644,000 in medical benefits the school department pays retirees would not harm the education provided students.
School board members said that cut cannot legally be made unilaterally. School board Chairman Kevin Gregory has urged voters to reject the budget. Town Manager Peggy Daigle urged voters to accept it, saying that with the town having only about $600,000 in its cash reserves, passage of the budget would save the town money it needs.
The mill rate under the council’s school budget would raise the town’s mill rate from 26.4 mills to nearly 30 mills, Daigle said. If the mill rate was 30 mills, property taxes on a $50,000 home would rise from $1,340 at 26.4 mills to $1,500.
The town’s financial situation is so dire, officials have said, that without greater tax increases, revenue from the school department’s recruiting of Chinese students to summer education programs and the high school, town schools would not generate enough revenue to keep going.
Polls at Stearns High School will be open until 8 p.m.
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