The state approved the withdrawal agreement plan for the six towns seeking to leave Regional School Unit (RSU) 20.

Belfast attorney Kristin Collins told city councilors during a Tuesday, April 16, meeting that with the approval from the Department of Education, the process moves into its final phases with the next step requiring each town to hold a public hearing.

The first public hearing is scheduled for May 6 at 6:30 p.m. at the Belfast Area High School. Collins said she did not anticipate any changes being made to the withdrawal agreement plan as a result of the public hearings.

Once the public hearings are completed, residents will decide whether they want to withdraw from RSU 20 or not during the June 11 primary and budget referendum vote. By law, each town must have at least 50 percent of the residents who cast a ballot during the 2010 gubernatorial election vote on withdrawal, and a majority of those votes must be in the affirmative for the question to pass.

If the 50 percent threshold is not met, the question fails. In addition, as per the six-town withdrawal agreement plan, withdrawal will fail if even one town fails to pass the question.

In order to meet the voter turnout requirement, Belfast would need 1,543 votes; Belmont would need 209 votes; Morrill would need 204 votes; Northport would need 389 votes; Searsmont would need 301 votes; and Swanville would need 268 votes.

Councilor Roger Lee asked Collins if someone who voted on the budget referendum question chose not to vote on the withdrawal question if that person’s ballot would still count towards the total voter turnout. Collins said it would not, because only a “yes” or “no” vote regarding withdrawal is counted towards the total turnout.

Because the voter turnout requirement is a concern, she continued by asking the Council for direction regarding a “get out the vote” campaign, noting that Belfast has about $25,000 remaining of the $50,000 funding approved by the Council to pay for withdrawal-related costs. City Manager Joseph Slocum suggested spending whatever is necessary in order to compile information — financial reports, frequently asked questions, etc. — to give to the public in advance of the vote.

Councilor Eric Sanders, who also serves as the chairman of Belfast’s withdrawal committee, said he supported spending money to drive voters to the poll, and said he felt the committees have created the best plan for withdrawal possible.

“Your school’s future is up for vote,” Sanders said.

Slocum suggested gathering the relevant withdrawal-related information to bring before the Council at a future meeting for approval before the information is published.

Councilors approved spending a portion of the $50,000 withdrawal funds to provide information to residents about the withdrawal effort by a vote of 3-0. Councilors Mike Hurley and Mary Mortier were absent.    

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