RSU 5 sends second budget to voters in Freeport, Pownal, Durham

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FREEPORT — Residents ratified a $23.5 million budget Tuesday night at the second Regional School Unit 5 town budget meeting. They will vote to approve it at a July 28 referendum.

There were fewer residents at this meeting, nearly half the number of attendees from the first meeting a month ago.

Freeport Town Clerk Beverly Curry said out of nearly 6,300 registered voters, 195 attended the meeting. Last month, about 275 Freeport residents attended. Durham Town Clerk Shannon Plourde said 42 out of 3,400 registered voters attended Tuesday’s meeting, 20 fewer than last time. Pownal Town Clerk Kelly Wentworth said 57 of 1,300 registered voters attended, compared to 110 last month.

“I thought for sure more people would turn out for this,” Plourde said. “It’s too bad.”

Residents who did attend the meeting approved all 18 articles on the meeting warrant, including a $22.7 million operating budget that exceeds state Essential Programs and Services by $3.9 million. In a secret written ballot required by law, they passed an article allowing the towns to exceed the EPS funding cap, 200-44.

The budget also includes $620,000 in stimulus funds and $83,000 for the local-only portion of adult education. The total budget for fiscal 2010 is $23.5 million.

Residents of Pownal and Durham still said they cannot afford to live with high school costs. A Durham mother with three children said she wanted to give her children the best education, but cannot afford it.

“My husband and I live hand to mouth, paycheck-to-paycheck,” she said.

Freeport resident Rod Regier said he thought Pownal and Durham residents were paying more than Freeport residents and said it was “appalling” to him. He tried to reduce the budget by $53,000 by cutting the curriculum director to its current half-time position.

“The curriculum coordinator position is Freeport’s position, and this seems like a steamroller,” he said.

The amendment was voted down, and RSU board member Betsy Peters said the full-time position will be necessary for the benefit of the students who will mesh into a consolidated district. 

Freeport resident Melissa Roberts-Fishman said residents should move the budget forward, and said a no vote is not a vote to end consolidation.

“A no vote is a vote in favor of decreasing the quality of education for our children,” she said. “They cannot be the casualties of our faulty decision making.”

Changes in town valuations, reductions in carry-forward funds and additional budget cuts have altered the tax impact to residents in all three towns.

Since March, the RSU 5 budget has been reduced $755,000, including $10,000 in cuts from the business office, $40,000 from a vacated curriculum director position, $3,300 from a vacated principal position and $32,500 less for a half-time teacher at the high school.

In addition to the budget cuts, the Durham Board of Selectmen recently decided to not use all $498,000 in carry-forward funds to offset taxes in one year, but will use $166,000 over three years.

Durham residents will face a 19 percent tax increase, or $496,000 more than this year, and will pay an additional $242 per 100,000 of assessed value.

Pownal residents will experience a 25 percent tax increase, and will pay $450 per $100,000 of assessed value, $330,000 more than this year.

Freeport residents will see a 1.28 percent reduction in taxes, $168,000 less than this year, or $11 less per $100,000.

Pownal resident Heather Camp said she is favor of passing the budget and starting the RSU.

“I think the RSU is a good thing for the students and the teachers,” she said. “We need to do something to educate our children better, and our teachers need more support. We can get that by pooling our efforts and resources to make this school district stronger.”

Superintendent of Schools Shannon Welsh said while summer is a difficult time to hold meetings and referendums, she urged residents to vote next Tuesday, July 28.

“It is important for people to take the second step in the budget process,” Welsh said. “I encourage all residents to vote.”

Absentee ballots are available in all town halls. The budget can be viewed at the RSU Web site.

In Freeport on July 28. residents can vote at Town Hall, 30 Main St., from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. In Durham, votes will be cast at Durham Elementary School, 654 Hallowell Road, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. In Pownal, residents will vote at Mallett Hall, 429 Hallowell Road, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or