Voters from five Belfast area towns on May 22 will weigh in on the proposed Regional School Unit 71 budget for 2017-18.

The $27,209,790 bottom line is up 2.5 percent from the current year. That figure takes into account $2 million in savings from last year, of which $1.5 million will go to offset the budget in the coming year.

The balance, pending voter approval, would be put in an account for future capital construction and maintenance projects, including planning for the an overhaul of the Tri-town Ames and Weymouth schools.

What's up?

Superintendent Paul Knowles attributed most of the increase in the overall budget to increases in salaries and benefits.

Occupational therapy costs are projected to be 12 times greater next year — $167,650, compared to $13,050 this year. Knowles said these are contracted services and based on student need.

Maintenance costs are quadruple what they were two years ago; however, Knowles said this reflects the board's focus on preventative maintenance, which was neglected in the past, causing the district to fall behind and face major renovation costs.

Why was there $2 million left over?

The district spent less than projected in a number of areas, Knowles said, including staff turnover that replaced higher-salaried veteran workers with lower-paid newcomers, lower fuel prices, some remaining funds from the RSU 20 transition and deals on textbooks. A typical carryover is about $500,000, he said.

Voters in Belfast, Belmont, Morrill, Searsmont and Swanville are encouraged to attend the RSU 71 Budget Validation Meeting, Monday, May 22, at 6:30 p.m., Troy Howard Middle School Gymnasium.

A final budget referendum vote will be held Tuesday, June 13, at regular polling places in each town.