Early SAD 75 budget projects 5% tax hike

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TOPSHAM — A preliminary fiscal year 2018 budget forecast in School Administrative District 75 projects a tax increase of 5.3 percent.

The budget could increase 2.14 percent to $38.2 million, not including adult education costs. With revenues subtracted, $23.7 million could come from taxpayers, an increase of $1.2 million over the current local share.

Breaking the tax impact down for each of the district’s four towns, Topsham could pay $9.9 million (up 7.2 percent), Harpswell $7.9 million (up 2.4 percent), Bowdoin $2.9 million (up 5.8 percent), and Bowdoinham $3 million (up 6.5 percent).

The annual tax increase on a typical Topsham home, valued at $182,000, could be $129. The hike could be $45 on a $425,000 Harpswell home, and $125 and $138 on $178,000 homes in Bowdoin and Bowdoinham, respectively.

SAD 75 business manager Mark Conrad said in an interview Monday that the higher tax increase compared to the budget hike is in part due to a loss in state aid – $14.25 million expected for next year, compared with $14.62 million received this year.

“When you think about the budget from a revenue standpoint, you’re really looking at two factors,” Conrad said. One is the $367,000 state subsidy loss, “and the other is the fact that any increase in the budget has to be picked up 100 percent on the local share. Those two factors combined really push up the local tax impact.”

SAD 75 Superintendent Brad Smith is requesting about $168,000 in total additions, which includes the first of five years of payments for a new bus ($20,000), an unassigned driver/trainer ($43,000), and an educational technician at the Williams-Cone Elementary School ($35,000).

Conrad noted that changes in the budget are likely in the next several weeks. For example, a budgeted 8 percent increase in health insurance may be more than the actual rate turns out to be.

“In the last two years we’ve either had no increase or a small decline, so we’re thinking we’re overdue for an increase,” Conrad said. “We’re hopeful that it won’t be 8 percent, so that would reduce the budget.”

Salary savings due to retirements have also not been factored in, and there is the potential that the district could end up receiving more state subsidy.

“Where we can identify those savings by the time we get to the district budget meeting, we do work to reduce the budget,” Conrad said. “It’s important for people to understand this is still a work in progress.”

Residents have several opportunities to weigh in on the budget as it is being fine-tuned. Public forums will be held at Harpswell Community School on Monday, March 27; at Woodside Elementary School in Topsham on Tuesday, March 28; and at Bowdoinham Central School on Thursday, March 30. All three forums begin at 6:30 p.m.

Log onto link75.org for more budget information.

“You’re constantly weighing the balance between the needs of our students, and a budget that’s reasonable for taxpayers,” Conrad said. “That’s the balance that both the superintendent and the board are working to strike.”

The School Board is due to approve the spending plan May 11, and residents will then vote on it twice: at a district budget meeting May 25, and a budget validation referendum June 13.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.