Madawaska approves school budget for third time

Posted Sept. 02, 2014, at 10:24 p.m.

MADAWASKA, Maine — For the third time in as many months, voters in Madawaska passed a $6.5 million school budget for fiscal year 2014-2015 at a special town meeting Tuesday night.

School officials now hope they have done enough to convince the voters to finally approve the proposed budget on the Sept. 16 referendum.

Since June, residents have approved Superintendent Ginette Albert’s proposed budget at town meeting three times, only to subsequently vote them down during the validation referendum.

“We absolutely hope this is the one,” Albert said last week. “But you never know.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Albert announced a newly revised budget that includes a total reduction in the local tax burden of $89,500 thanks to an additional $48,000 taken from unexpended surplus from last year’s operating budget.

In all, $370,000 was brought forward from last year’s budget, according to the new figures Albert provided Tuesday.

As proposed, the overall $6.5 million 2014-15 school budget calls for a total local commitment of $2.7 million.

The Madawaska Budget Committee, which recommended residents vote against the two previous failed budgets, had not taken any official action on the most recent proposal.

However, at Tuesday’s meeting, Paul Cyr, chairman of the budget committee addressed residents and recommended the budget not be passed.

Cyr has maintained the school committee is finding budget savings at a cost to education and programs and should be looking to cut salaries and address benefit contributions.

“When I came to the two previous meetings, I stood up to move the school committee eliminate raises in the budget across the board and have more equitable share in the health insurance,” Cyr said. “Tonight I will not make a similar motion, but I do ask the voters reject the budget.”

Speaking in favor of the budget, retired Madawaska educator Roger Martin said all departments in the town, including safety, public works and recreation, should be looking to reduce expenses, not just the school department, which he said seems to be unfairly targeted.

“I was in the school department for 25 years, and we were respected and treated as professionals,” Martin said. “Now I get the distinct impression a lot of people are looking at teachers as second-class citizens and don’t have the interest in education as it used to be in this town.”

Madawaska has faced heavy tax revenue losses stemming from property tax abatements granted to Twin Rivers Paper Co., reducing its valuation from $170 million to $85 million during a four-year period beginning in fiscal year 2010.

This year, according to Town Manager Christina Therrien, that meant $178,000 less tax revenue would be coming to the town from the mill, leaving the town and school to come up with the difference.

The town had already cut $89,500 from its current budget, and the proposed school budget approved Tuesday cut the additional $89,500.

Albert is hopeful this school budget will survive a referendum vote.

“If the towns people really listened to what we have done, it will go through,” she said. “There is no reason for it not to.”

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