MADAWASKA, Maine — So near and yet so far. The Madawaska School Committee had just one hurdle to pass Wednesday before it could present its proposed 2013-2014 budget to the voters, more than two months past the start of the fiscal year.
But less than two hours after approving its proposed $6.5 million budget, the school committee watched as the municipal budget committee refused to approve it for inclusion on a town meeting warrant.
“The budget committee has more questions,” Ginette Albert, interim school superintendent said Thursday. “They will not approve our budget until they are satisfied.”
At Wednesday’s meeting, according to Albert, budget committee members questioned whether her department was looking at closing any school buildings or terminating any teachers.
“I told them ‘No, we are not,’” Albert said. “But I also told them we had looked and looked at that budget and there is nowhere else to cut.”
Questions did remain, she said, concerning state funds the town and school department received from the Sudden and Severe Impact program and exactly how those funds were used within the respective budgets.
Sudden and Severe Impact funds are state economic relief monies given to municipalities that suffer severe tax valuation losses, such as those caused by the devaluation of the Twin Rivers Paper Co. mill in Madawaska.
Those concerns will be addressed with the requested information at a planned budget committee meeting on Sept. 25, Albert said.
At that meeting, she said, a conference call will be placed to connect the budget committee and the school committee with officials at the Maine Department of Education.
“This way committee members can get the information they want straight from the source,” Albert said. “We will all be hearing the same thing at the same time.”
The proposed 2013-2014 budget represents a near 3 percent reduction over last year’s budget, according to Albert.
Thanks to an additional $156,000 the school department is getting from the state for education this year, plus the school committee’s decision to carry forward $237,901 of last year’s surplus — all but 57 cents of the total in order to keep the account open — the proposed budget meets the voters’ wishes to not raise local taxes.
In all, residents will be asked to approve a local tax effort of $2,777,841, down nearly $250,000 from last year.
Both departments are under a voter mandate to cut $250,000 from their respective budgets.
On the municipal side of things, the town’s budget also is under review by the budget committee, but Town Manager Christina Therrien on Thursday said she is confident both budgets will be resolved and approved in time for a town meeting in October.
“We have cut our budget by $250,000 [over last year] and now we will let the budget committee say yay or nay to it,” Therrien said. “Once they approve it, we look to move forward to a town meeting.”
To bridge the gap between the end of the last fiscal year and an approved budget for this year, Therrien said voters in July approved a measure allowing both the town and the school district to operate month by month, spending at a rate of one-twelfth of last year’s budget less $20,000 to meet the voter-mandated cuts.
“I can’t fathom the budget committee not approving our budgets as long as those mandated cuts are in there,” Therrien said.
Also on Wednesday the Madawaska School Committee appointed former Madawaska educator and budget committee member Bev Madore and resident Robert Poiesz to fill two committee vacancies created by two resignations last month.