Freeport-Pownal-Durham school budget grows before referendum

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FREEPORT — A slightly increased $24.9 million Regional School Unit 5 fiscal year 2013 budget faces a June 12 referendum vote after review at the annual budget meeting.

About 190 residents attended the three-hour meeting May 23 at Freeport High School, where amendments presented by the RSU 5 School Board and residents added about $17,500 to help fund vocational education and the Port Teen Center.

Almost $12,500 of the amendment increases was added to the $441,000 in Article 4 to pay for tuition increases at the Maine Region 10 Vocational Technical High School in Brunswick.

Proposed amendments that failed would have added $19,000 for playground equipment and flooring repairs at Morse Street School in Freeport and reduced the system administration line item by $6,500.

While voters rejected adding money for Morse Street School repairs, they approved an overall 7.9 percent increase in Article 3 for facilities management, with $199,200 allocated to future capital improvements.

The reduction in the system administration budget was proposed because it is the amount Superintendent Shannon Welsh will receive as a pay increase next year. But School Board Chairman Nelson Larkins said the reduction would be felt in other areas because Welsh’s increase to $114,700 annually is a contractual obligation.

By adding $5,000 to a contingency fund contained in Article 6 for regular instruction, the remainder of a $20,000 funding gap at the teen center in the basement of the Freeport Community Center can be closed.

The debate to add the money took 15 minutes, with Freeport Town Councilors Charlotte Bishop, James Hendricks and Sara Gideon all speaking in favor of the allocation. The Town Council increased its allocation to the center by $5,000 last week, and Bishop said she urged teen center supporters to ask the board for $7,000.

Among those opposing spending school district money for the center was Pownal resident Michael Morin.

“There is a slippery slope when we become a charity instead of a school,” he said.

The $24.9 million budget, including funding for adult education programs, was dissected through 20 warrant articles detailing 11 “cost centers,” overviews of total spending and a written ballot seeking approval to exceed the proscribed state property tax limit in the Essential Programs and Services formula.

By a 127-11 tally, district voters approved spending $4.19 million above the $15.89 million in locally raised revenue required by the state formula. The district will receive $3.82 million in state subsidies next year, an increase of $335,000.

The effect on local tax rates from the more than $490,000 increase in local tax commitments will not be fully determined until annual property valuations are completed in each town, RSU 5 Finance Director Kelly Wentworth said.

Freeport Finance Director Abbe Yacoben estimated the school share in the entire municipal budget to be about $10.77 of an anticipated $15.45 to $15.50 rate per $1,000 of assessed value. Last year, the school share of the Freeport budget was $10.36 of the $15.20 tax rate.

Officials in Durham and Pownal said they are waiting for updated information from the school district before estimating the affect of the budget on local property tax rates.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Sidebar Elements

Freeport, Durham and Pownal residents cast colorful votes during the May 23 meeting on the $24.9 million fiscal year 2013 RSU 5 budget. The specific budget articles were approved ahead of a June 12 referendum on the total budget.

When, where to vote

The RSU 5 budget referendum is on Tuesday, June 12.

Durham residents vote from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Durham Community School, 654 Hallowell Road.

Freeport votes from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Freeport High School, 30 Holbrook St.

Pownal voting is from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Mallett Hall, 429 Hallowell Road.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.