RSU 20 officials approve proposed $35.5 million budget

Public to weigh in on figure during May 29 meeting
By Ben Holbrook | Apr 25, 2014

Belfast — The Regional School Unit 20 board of directors approved a $35.5 million budget for the 2014-2015 school year despite concerns from one member about the increase to taxpayers.

The figures represents a 6.5-percent overall budget increase, with an average increase in town assessments coming in at 7.32 percent. Members of the district's finance committee were able to reduce the budget decreasing the contingency line by about $81,000 and paring the transportation budget by continuing the single bus run for students living in Searsport and Stockton Springs. The total savings from those two cost reductions, according to RSU 20 Finance Director Chandra Hodgdon, added up to about $421,000, according to previously published reports.

During a meeting Tuesday, April 22, Director Christopher Hyk stated he was unable to support the proposed budget because of the increase it represents to taxpayers. Hyk pointed out that residents in Belfast have seen an increase in their property taxes of 10 percent for the past two years.

He then said it would be “unconscionable” to bring such a proposal to the public.

“All we've given up is a second run of buses in Searsport,” Hyk said. “I just think it's a budget that's coming in bad faith.”

Chairman Tony Bagley pointed out that the budget was what the finance committee recommended and the bottom line figure was reduced by about $441,000 from the original proposal. Director Tony Swebilius also noted that last year, the board had difficulty figuring out what the public wanted in the budget.

The 2013-2014 budget failed twice at a referendum vote before it finally passed on a third vote.

Swebilius also said he feels “reasonably confident” that if the budget is rejected this year, it will mean residents want the board to make further cuts as opposed to adding more money to the budget.

Director Denise Dakin noted last year residents added nearly $1 million back into the budget during the district-wide meeting and said the board should send the proposed 2014-2015 figure to the public and let residents decide what they want to do.

While Hyk was unhappy with the budget figure, Director Stephanie Wade thanked the finance committee for restoring funding for co-curricular and extracurricular activities. Wade said by providing funding for those activities, it shows the district is willing to invest in the students; that it will help prevent students from dropping out; and that RSU 20 will be more attractive to families looking at moving to the area.

Director Charles Grey stated he feels the board should support the budget as being one that represents what is best for the students. He also commented that if the board supports the figure then the public may be more likely to support it as well.

Before a vote was taken to approve the budget, Hyk again reiterated that he would not support a 7-percent increase to taxpayers.

Board members approved the proposed $35.5 million budget with Hyk and Director Deb Riley opposed.

The budget will next go to a public hearing scheduled for Thursday, May 29, beginning at 7 p.m. at Troy Howard Middle School.

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Ben Holbrook
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Ben Holbrook is a reporter for The Republican Journal covering general news.

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