EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — The town’s mill rate will rise at least 1.1 mills — or $54 in property tax annually on a home worth $50,000 — if voters approve repairing Schenck High School’s roof, AOS 66 Superintendent Quenten Clark said Friday.
The East Millinocket School Committee will hold a special public hearing on April 10 to discuss the options open to it as it ponders the future of the high school. The Board of Selectmen agreed on Monday to move the hearing place from the Town Office to accommodate the expected crowd, board Chairman Clint Linscott said.
The financial impact of the roof repairs, and possibly all the work the school needs, will be at the top of the list town leaders want to discuss, Linscott and Clark said. Clark will also provide estimated costs for tuitioning students to other school systems, he said.
Linscott said he does not support repairing the roof.
The job’s possible impact on the town’s 23.33 mill rate, the expected loss of revenue from Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed state budget, and the possible $300,000 increase in the school budget caused by the bonds the work will need, and other expenses, all make it too expensive, Linscott said.
Also, too many of these elements, such as the state government budget, are in flux right now to make for an intelligent decision-making process, he said, and Linscott believes that the cost and budget estimates are too low to support the work.
“There are too many unknowns,” Linscott said Friday.
Another unknown, but potentially damaging impact is a decrease in school enrollments. The school system gets about $1.1 million in tuition from the other members of AOS 66, Medway and Woodville, and from superintendent’s swap students — students from other towns who attend AOS 66 schools, Clark said.
Declining enrollments usually equal declining state subsidies, Clark said. At present tuition students to AOS 66 equal about $10,000 per student in subsidies. Clark has said that the town’s school population has declined 55 percent since 1995.
With the town’s present 23.33 mill rate, a 1.1 mill increase would equal about $2,430 in property tax on an East Millinocket home worth $100,000 and $1,220 on property worth $50,000. Under the present mill rate, homes of that value would be taxed $2,333 and $1,166 annually in property taxes.
The $2.1 million roof repair includes installing roof insulation, a new gymnasium floor, new emergency and exit lights and audio-visual fire alarms. It also includes repairing gym wall cracks as well as remodeling bathrooms and drinking fountains to meet the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act, according to a proposal from Lewis & Malm Architecture of Bucksport.
The tuition scenario, Clark has said, is intended to show voters the options available in case they opt not to repair the roof. Millinocket’s school board has offered to tuition high school students next year for about $1.5 million, and Lee Academy and other schools have said they would like to make tuition offers if town leaders request them.
Clark said he wants to keep the meeting as fact-based as possible, but the potential loss of the school if the roof isn’t repaired also involves the town’s identity, residents have said.
During several public meetings on the subject, some residents have said that a loss of the school, which houses Opal Myrick Elementary School, means the loss of the town — that the town’s school system is an integral part of the town’s value as a place to raise families.
Others have said that the educational system in East Millinocket is excellent and should not be lost when the town can afford the roof repair. They also say that repairing the roof buys time, which could allow for the declines in the Katahdin region’s population and economy to reverse.