East Millinocket voters shoot down $4.01 million school budget

Posted Aug. 07, 2014, at 10:28 p.m.

EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Residents overwhelmingly rejected a $4.01 million school budget Thursday during the second validation referendum conducted here so far this year.

By the time the votes were cast and counted, the budget proposal had tanked, with 112 voters in favor and 264 opposed, according to election results released late Thursday night.

It was not immediately clear Thursday what school officials’ next step will be. Dan Byron, school board chairman, declined to comment Thursday night.

Before Thursday’s vote, local officials projected that the budget, if approved, would result in a sharp increase in the town’s property tax rate.

Selectman Mark Marston said earlier that the town’s assessor predicted that the mill rate under the proposed town and school budgets would rise from $21.93 per thousand in property valuation to about $37 this year.

Thursday’s referendum vote followed a town meeting on Tuesday in which 58 voters approved a series of articles cutting the school budget from $4.07 million, according to a referendum vote sheet town officials provided.

The largest single cut reduced the money raised from taxes to pay for town schools by $60,000, from $475,804 to $415,804. That motion passed 42-0. All of the motions carried with healthy margins.

The budget passed in an earlier town meeting and failed in a town referendum on June 10, by a 246-145 vote.

The mill rate is set in late fall, and early estimates show it will increase from $21.93 per thousand of valuation to about $37 if Great Northern Paper Co. LLC continues to fail to pay its overdue property taxes. The town is owed $657,900 by Great Northern Paper, plus interest and expenses.

A $27 mill rate will occur if the Great Northern Paper payment does come. That increase means owners of $50,000 properties would pay $1,350 in property taxes this year instead of $1,096.

A $37 mill rate would leave owners of $50,000 homes paying $1,850 this year, or $754 more than they paid in 2013-14. By comparison, the statewide average adjusted property tax rate was $13.99 in 2012, the latest year statewide figures are available.

The town’s economy, Marston said, has progressively worsened over the last few years. School and town officials have said they have cut their budgets significantly in response. But nothing has offset the town’s heaviest economic blow, the layoff of 212 of 256 workers at the Great Northern Paper mill on Feb. 6, and another less-well-known trend hurting the town is the reduction of state revenue sharing.

Bangor Daily News writer Nick Sambides Jr. contributed to this report.

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