RSU 1 seeks public input on possible $1M budget cut

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BATH — Faced with having to cut next year’s budget by a projected $1 million, Regional School Unit 1 is asking for public input on the spending plan.

An online survey, which can be accessed at surveymonkey.com/s/8XB7Y6X, asks questions such as which services should be prioritized, which budget cuts should be considered, and whether the respondent would be willing to incur a tax increase to maintain school programming and services at their current level.

Superintendent Patrick Manuel said the survey would provide “different perspectives and viewpoints from students, staff, parents and community members.”

The survey deadline is Tuesday, Jan. 31. RSU 1’s finance committee will discuss the results Thursday, Feb. 2, at an open-to-the-public meeting to be held at Bath Middle School at 8 a.m.

The current $25.6 million budget, approved last June, included a 2.5 percent tax hike, which boosted the levy by more than $413,000, to nearly $17 million. The budget itself increased nearly 3 percent, or about $730,000.

Then-Superintendent William Shuttleworth cited a $1.1 million decline in state and federal revenues as a key reason behind the need for higher taxes.

Manuel, who replaced Shuttleworth last year, said RSU 1 expects to receive $100,000 more in state aid for the upcoming fiscal 2013 budget.

But the Bath-based district, which also includes Arrowsic, Phippsburg, West Bath and Woolwich, looks to lose about $480,000 in federal job stabilization funds it had saved for use in fiscal 2012.

RSU 1 may also lose some money in areas such as Medicaid reimbursement and tuition, Manuel said.

“We’re looking at $500,000 less in revenue coming into RSU 1, and then we’re looking at a projection of another $500,000 of increased costs,” he said, such as fuel and heating oil, health insurance, and potentially the food service program.

“It’s an early projection, and we’re just starting our budget process, but we’re going into it with the frame of mind that we might need to try to find approximately $1 million,” Manuel said.

Nearly 700 people responded a year ago to a district survey, similar to the current one. About 32 percent of responders said they supported no tax increase, while the same amount would be willing to incur a 1 percent to 2 percent increase; 12.6 percent said they could support a 3 percent to 4 percent increase; 4.5 percent could support a 5 percent to 6 percent increase, and 18.5 percent would be willing to pay whatever money is needed to maintain current programs.

Shuttleworth said most responders were people connected to the schools.

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.