RSU 20 voters pass $33.4 million budget
Belfast — Voters in the eight Regional School Unit 20 towns approved a budget proposal totaling $33,389,902 at the polls Tuesday, Sept. 17.
Residents voted 914-749 in favor of approving the budget package, which represented the third attempt on the part of the RSU 20 Board of Directors to present a proposal that would gain final approval from taxpayers.
Budget validation meeting
About 120 residents from the eight Regional School Unit 20 towns turned out at Troy Howard Middle School Tuesday night, Sept. 10, and approved a budget proposal totaling $33,389,902, with none of the 16 articles presented drawing a motion to either increase or decrease any cost centers.
The meeting spanned about 90 minutes, and with the exception of a failed motion to revisit one article, residents passed each article on the warrant with little or no discussion.
The bottom line figure represents a .07 percent increase over last year's expenditure budget (an increase totaling $22,157) and would bring an across-the-board increase of about 10-percent for taxpayers in the eight towns, according to previously published reports.
RSU 20 Superintendent Brian Carpenter told residents at the start of the meeting that the latest proposal factored in comments generated at two public forums in Belfast and Searsport last month and comments the board received from a survey Director Valerie Mank posted at surveymonkey.com.
The board brought forth a proposal that was less than the last budget that was rejected at the polls, Carpenter said, and encouraged residents to support the latest proposal as presented.
"The towns need a budget from the schools because they can't put out their tax bills," said Carpenter, who added it would also benefit the district staff and the students.
After voters finalize a budget for the current school year, Carpenter said the board would "look at doing something differently."
The newest proposal carries a reduction the food service line from $90,000 to $70,000, and a cut in the technology budget line totaling $20,000. Hours for school secretaries will also be reduced this year. All middle school activity stipends ($72,436) and the $61,202 that represented increases in stipends for high school activities were eliminated. The board also recommended funding an elementary art position for $60,000 which Carpenter said would result in a shift in staff that will allow Troy Howard Middle School to retain an art program, and restored the $41,127 for the school resource officer at Belfast Area High School.
While some in attendance offered suggestions about how the district might save money in the future, none of those who spoke proposed an amendment on any of the articles that represented various cost centers of the budget.
David Marceau of Searsmont said taxpayers are already struggling and can no longer cover the rising costs of operating the district as it is. Marceau said cutting personnel is one way to reduce expenses, stating he believes the food service director is overpaid and the school resource officer is not a necessary position at BAHS. Marceau also suggested closing down the pool at BAHS in favor of using the one at the YMCA.
Belfast resident Amy Fradel said the problems with the budget, and the 10 percent across-the -board increase in assessments for district towns if this latest proposal passes at the polls, is not the result of poor management on the part of the board.
"The 10 percent increase we are talking about is courtesy of our governor, Paul LePage," she said, a comment that was met with applause. "The school resource officer is a priceless advantage. Teachers have been cut... I do not encourage any further cuts in this budget."
Retired RSU 20 teacher David Smith of Belfast agreed with Fradel's statements.
"We need to go to the legislature; we need to visit the state house," he said. "I'm sick and tired of this lack of commitment to the public, to the children."
George Darling, a Belfast businessman, encouraged his fellow voters to be open to new ways to save money, including enacting a pay-to-play policy for students who wish to participate in athletics. He said his business is now for sale, and soon his home will be on the market too, because he is being priced out by the rising property tax rates.
"How many times can you raise my taxes and have me be bale to afford to stay?" he said. "... Put our priorities in order, please."
This proposal represents the third attempt on the part of the board to present a budget that can garner voter approval at the ballot box.
The budget package the board proposed in May totaled $33.5 million, but by the end of the four-hour budget validation meeting at THMS, residents restored about half of the $1.7 million worth of cuts the directors proposed. The restored funds totaled $856,010.
In the second budget pitch, the board came back to residents during a validation meeting July 22 with a proposed $33.8 million budget that was reduced by residents by $363,563 to a final figure of $33,459,979.
Voters in all eight towns rejected both proposals at the polls.
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Tanya has been a general news reporter in Waldo County since 1997.
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