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RSU 5 hopes to increase budget awareness as 2nd town meeting approaches

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RSU 5 hopes to increase budget awareness as 2nd town meeting approaches

FREEPORT — In an effort to pass a budget before the start of the school year and keep residents engaged in the budget approval process, Regional School Unit 5 directors reduced their proposed operating budget by an additional $86,000 and have launched a get-out-the-vote campaign.

The board will present a $23.4 million spending package at a second tri-town meeting on Tuesday, July 21. Residents will then vote to approve or reject the school budget on Tuesday, July 28 in a budget validation referendum.

If the budget passes, the RSU will have an approved operating budget for the school year; if not, the process will begin again with two public meetings, another tri-town budget meeting and a third budget validation vote.

Because voters in Freeport, Pownal and Durham rejected the original $23.5 million budget three weeks ago, RSU directors said they are trying to educate residents and keep interest sparked.

Pownal Selectman Tim Giddinge said residents who were "fired up about the budget in the beginning of the process are still fired up," and people are still not pleased about a 25 percent tax increase.

"It is human nature to lose steam on issues that drag on," he said. "Over time, it is just going to happen."

But Giddinge also said residents do not blame Freeport for the tax increases, and are aware that any additional cuts to the budget may reduce the tax burden, could harm education and educational programs.

"Cuts that would make Pownal residents happy are just not palatable," he said. "This is just a bad economic time to make these changes."

Nelson Larkins, newly elected RSU board chairman, said it is important for residents of all three communities to understand that the school district has been in operation since July 1, and a budget needs to be approved by the voters as soon as possible.

"We have to run the schools when the doors open in the fall," he said. "And more people need to be heard."

Larkins said the three communities have about 11,000 registered voters and only 1,200 voted in the first referendum.

"We need people to take part in the process so we know what they think," he said. "We all know this three-part process is difficult, but we need to stay involved."

To reach as many residents as possible, the RSU communications subcommittee is expected to send out reminders to residents by phone, e-mail and mail before the town budget meeting and validation vote. Board members will put up notifications on local cable channels and set up posters in all three towns.

Kristen Dorsey, a member of the RSU communications subcommittee, said it is difficult to educate people during the summer months because of vacations and reduced town office hours.

"Making people aware of a process they are unfamiliar with in the summer months throws us a huge curve ball," she said. "But we are trying to make the dates visible and keep people involved."

Tax Impact

Valuation changes, reductions in carry-forward funds and additional budget cuts, meanwhile, will alter the tax impact in all three towns.

The most recent budget cuts of $86,000 mean that nearly $745,000 has been cut from the RSU 5 budget since it was first presented in March. The cuts include $10,000 from the business office, $40,000 from a vacated curriculum coordinator position, $3,300 less for a vacated principal position at Freeport Middle School, and $32,500 less for a half-time teacher at Freeport High School. The operating budget is now $22.7 million.

The reductions initially included cutting one full-time high school teacher for $65,000, but the board added a half position back in after public discussion. The board also decided against contracting for two buses at $12,000, and opted instead to pay $54,000 a year for a three-year purchase agreement with nearly 100 percent state reimbursement.

In addition to the budget reductions, changes in Durham will affect the tax impact there. According to Durham resident and budget committee member Allan Purinton, the Durham Board of Selectmen will not spend all of the $498,000 in carry-forward funds this year, but instead will spread the funds out over three years. That, coupled with Durham's increase in town assessed value from $185 million to $190 million, will increase the tax impact on Durham residents from $98 per $100,000 of assessed value as of the last budget vote on June 25, to $242 per $100,000.

Purinton said Durham residents have already committed to spending a significant amount of their tax dollars on the construction of a new elementary school, and the tax increase in part reflects that debt, not just the cost of consolidation.

Durham residents face a 19 percent tax increase, or $496,000, and
will pay an additional $242 per $100,000 of assessed value in fiscal
2010.

Pownal residents will experience a 25 percent tax increase and will pay $450 per $100,000 of assessed value, $330,000 more than this year.

Freeport residents will experience a 1.28 percent reduction in taxes, or $168,000 less than this year, $11 less per $100,000 of assessed value.

Residents of all three towns will gather on Tuesday, July 21, at 6 p.m. in the Freeport High School gymnasium to vote on the warrant articles that make up the budget. After the budget is approved, a second budget validation referendum will be held in each town on July 28.

To view the entire budget, visit the RSU 5 Web site.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net