Belfast-area regional school district to send third budget proposal to voters

Posted Aug. 27, 2013, at 5:36 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — Regional School Unit 20 Superintendent Brian Carpenter hopes the third time will be the charm in proposing a budget that will win voters’ approval, as required by state law.

On Monday night, the eight-community district’s board of directors agreed to schedule a third vote on a 2013-2014 budget. The $33.4 million proposed budget will be discussed and then voted on by the district’s residents in the next few weeks.

If passed, the budget would reflect a 0.07 percent increase over last year, but because of a decrease in state and federal funding, residents of Belfast, Belmont, Morrill, Northport, Searsmont, Searsport, Stockton Springs and Swanville would face a roughly 10 percent increase in property taxes across the board.

Carpenter expressed doubts that voters would agree to the budget as proposed.

“From our perception here, we have two factions,” he said. “One group wants lower taxes. One group wants to spend more money for education. They almost balance each other out.”

At the end of July, voters overwhelmingly rejected a $33.5 million version of the budget. In response, district officials held two forums to ask the residents what they want from the school budget. About 100 people attended those forums, held at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast and at Searsport District High School.

“People wanted to put the art teacher back in, and the school resource officer,” Carpenter said.

So, the board reinstituted one elementary school art teaching position and the school resource officer, who works primarily at Belfast Area High School. Cuts in the current edition of the budget include one and a half library ed tech positions, some hours for school secretaries and all middle school activity stipends.

“That means volunteer coaches,” Carpenter said.

Right now, community volunteers have stepped up to coach the soccer, football, field hockey and cross-country programs, he said.

Although the proposed budget will levy property tax increases on the district’s residents, Carpenter said that eliminating those increases would have required cutting as much as $3 million, which many residents do not desire.

“As soon as I cut something, I’ll have a special interest group hollering to put it back in,” he said.

The budget meeting, at which voters can add or subtract from the school budget, is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10, at Troy Howard Middle School. Residents of the eight towns will vote to validate the budget on Tuesday, Sept. 17 at their municipal polling places.

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