The Regional School Unit (RSU) 20 superintendent painted a grim picture for city councilors of the potential impact on taxpayers of the district budget.

Superintendent Brian Carpenter explained to councilors Tuesday, April 16, that he was not bringing good news before telling councilors that property taxes in the city could rise by as much as four mils.

A four-mil increase would equate to a $400 increase in the property tax bill for a person with a house valued at $100,000.

Carpenter said Belfast’s local assessment could increase by as much as $2.6 million — primarily because of the state's shifting teacher retirement costs back to the schools, reduced state revenue and the increased salaries for teachers and support staff per the recently negotiated contract.

That $2.6 million additional local assessment is about a $1.4 million increase over last year's additional local share, which was about $1.2 million, Carpenter told the Republican Journal during a telephone interview.

Depending on the cuts made to the budget, Carpenter said, the district-wide budget could increase by 16.6 percent to 21 percent for next year. He continued that some costs, such as insurance, came in higher than expected, which also affected the budget. While Board members were expecting a 10 percent increase in insurance costs, those costs ended up increasing by 13 percent, Carpenter said.

Carpenter said Gov. Paul LePage’s biennial budget that calls for shifting more teacher retirement costs to the schools equates to an additional $420,000 the district has to cover. The newly approved teacher and support staff contracts add an additional $967,000 to the budget for the former School Administrative District 34.

“A flat budget would still be an increase,” Carpenter said.

In order to bring the increase down to 16.6 percent, Carpenter said, programs and extracurricular activities, as well as staff positions, would have to be cut. However, he said cutting extracurricular activities could create even more of a budget hardship because students might choose to leave the district to attend school elsewhere.

Councilor Eric Sanders asked whether any cuts, such as to positions, would be equitable between Belfast and Searsport. Carpenter said the cuts would not be equitable because of the impact cutting a teacher in Searsport would have, versus cutting one in Belfast.

Carpenter  explained that he reviewed the total number of hours teachers in Searsport spend working with students and how many hours teachers in Belfast spend working with students. He said that analysis revealed that Searsport teachers spend more than 100 hours a week working with students, versus the 88 hours per week spent by Belfast teachers.

For that reason, Carpenter said cutting a position Searsport would mean the loss of a program, while cutting a position in Belfast would mean a program could continue functioning without any negative impact to the student body.

“My position is that we should not lose staff and we should not lose programs,” Carpenter said.

A best-case scenario, Carpenter said, would be if the state decided not shift additional teacher retirement costs back to the district. Councilor Nancy Hamilton asked how the city should respond to residents who are concerned about seeing their taxes increase, to which Carpenter responded that residents should contact their legislators.

Carpenter said he anticipates the School Board will vote on the 2013-2014 budget April 30, and the budget referendum will be held June 11.

Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at bholbrook@courierpublicationsllc.com.