RSU 1 approves budget; Bath council urges new cost-sharing formula

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BATH — The Regional School Unit 1 Board of Directors unanimously approved a $26 million budget Tuesday for fiscal 2013.

The spending plan will go to two district-wide votes next month.

The board postponed a vote a week ago to allow administrators to find reductions that would mitigate impacts on RSU 1’s five communities. Nearly $109,000 in potential savings, including $78,000 from not replacing a retired social studies teacher at Morse High School, was presented Tuesday to the board.

The board agreed with all the cuts.

The district, which funds tuition for pre-kindergarten students, had proposed reducing the number of slots it offers from 71 to 53. But after hearing strong community support for that program and concern over the cuts, the board decided to use about $58,000 from the savings to reinstate the slots in next year’s spending plan.

The board also used $5,000 of the savings to reinstate a popular soccer program at Woolwich Central School.

The more than $45,000 savings that remained were applied to reducing tax impacts to the RSU 1 communities. The total amount to be assessed through taxes dropped slightly, from $17.4 million to $17.3 million.

A proposed 5.66 percent tax increase in Bath would drop to 5.38 percent, resulting in an approximately $438,000 hike, to $8.6 million. Following the change, Arrowsic’s assessment would rise nearly 16 percent to $494,000. Phippsburg would increase 9.54 percent to nearly $3 million, and Woolwich’s would grow 1.77 percent to $3.1 million.

West Bath’s assessment would decrease nearly 17 percent, to $2.2 million.

The RSU 1 board voted unanimously April 23 to change its cost-sharing formula, so that a law that created the school district would apply to its entire local tax calculation. The board had heard arguments from community members in support of that change, but not everybody is pleased with that course of action.

In a May 9 letter to RSU 1 board Chairman Timothy Harkins, the Bath City Council requested that the board “immediately begin the process of adopting a new cost sharing method that is fair and equitable to the taxpayers of all member communities.”

The council suggested the board form a committee to propose a new allocation method no later than June 30.

The council noted the “extraordinary additional financial burden” the change would place on Bath residents, “who already pay the highest education-related property taxes” in the district.

The letter also said the School Board’s decision “has generated a great deal of concern among Bath citizens,” and suggested there may be an effort to leave the RSU.

Harkins said last week that RSU 1 is working to form a committee to examine the cost-sharing method for future years.

“The city of Bath wants the funding formula revisited and changed as soon as possible,” City Manager Bill Giroux said Wednesday. “… I see no need for us to wait a whole year.”

Voters will decide next year’s spending plan at a district budget meeting Tuesday, June 5, and at a budget validation referendum one week later. The budget would take effect July 1.

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.