Insurance costs help SAD 75 shave proposed budget

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TOPSHAM — Lower-than-expected insurance costs have helped School Administrative District 75 trim $200,000 from its proposed budget for next year.

The district Finance Committee on April 13 presented a $38 million recommendation to the Board of Directors, which is due to vote on the fiscal 2018 spending plan after a public hearing Thursday, May 11.

The district had factored in an 8 percent increase, or nearly $458,000, in health insurance costs. SAD 75 has in the last two years either had no hike or a small reduction, so the district is due for an increase, although Business Manager Mark Conrad had hoped it would not be as high as 8 percent.

Instead, the rate is due to increase 1.37 percent, or almost $309,000. Helping to offset that, and an 18 percent ($137,000) Maine Retirement hike, is $350,000 in design expenses for a new Mt. Ararat High School which will not be in next year’s operating budget.

That amount was expended during the current fiscal year 2017, but thanks to passage March 7 of a referendum approving the school, those expenses will now be funded through school construction bond proceeds.

Construction costs for the school will appear in later budgets, and not impact next year’s spending plan. Construction on the $60 million project, which includes $6.2 million for locally funded items that the state will not cover, could begin in May or June 2018, with bonding going out in spring 2019, and the school opening in fall 2020.

SAD 75 has also factored in about $122,000 in savings due to staff turnovers, with retiring employees being replaced with those at a smaller end of the pay scale. Technology equipment expenses are down nearly $105,000, thanks to the current life cycle of those products.

Despite the district experiencing several cost reductions, SAD 75 also faces a $367,000 reduction in state subsidy, down to the $14.25 million presently proposed. Within that reduction is a $60,000 decline in debt service reimbursed by the state, since the district’s state-approved debt service is dropping by the same amount, according to SAD 75 Business Manager Mark Conrad.

Additions in the budget include the first of five years of payments for a new bus ($20,000), an unassigned bus driver/trainer ($43,000), a special education behavior teacher ($71,000), an elementary school teacher to compensate for larger class sizes ($71,000), and an educational technician at the Williams-Cone Elementary School ($35,000).

Next year’s $38 million reflects an increase of 1.62 percent, or $605,000, over current spending. With revenues subtracted, $23.5 million could come from taxpayers, an increase of nearly $994,000 over the current local share.

Breaking the tax impact down for each of the district’s four towns, Topsham could pay $9.8 million (up 6.4 percent), Harpswell $7.8 million (up 1.5 percent), Bowdoin $2.9 million (up 4.9 percent), and Bowdoinham $3 million (up 5.7 percent).

The annual tax increase on a typical Topsham home, valued at $182,000, could be $114. The increase could be $27 on a $425,000 Harpswell home, and $105 and $120 on $178,000 homes in Bowdoin and Bowdoinham, respectively.

The May 11 hearing will be at Mt. Ararat High School at 6 p.m. Residents will then vote on the spending plan 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.

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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.