SAD 75 budget faces $600K challenge

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TOPSHAM — School Administrative District 75 managed to avoid an overall tax increase in the current budget year, and Superintendent Brad Smith said he hopes to do the same in fiscal 2013.

But doing so is expected to require reducing expenses by about $600,000.

A budget process overview was scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 12. Smith’s presentation of fiscal 2013 budget issues is planned for Jan. 26, a review of the first draft budget set for March 6 and formal budget approval will be at the April 26 SAD 75 Board of Directors meeting.

The budget will then go to votes by residents of the district’s four towns – Topsham, Harpswell, Bowdoin and Bowdoinham – at the May 24 district budget meeting and the June 12 budget validation referendum.

The fiscal 2012 budget is $34.2 million, down more than $572,000, or 1.65 percent, from the previous year. The district-wide local contribution remained unchanged at $18.7 million, although individual towns saw increases and decreases caused by valuation changes and student population.

Topsham’s contribution rose 3.15 percent to $7.8 million, while Harpswell’s dropped nearly 5 percent to $6.5 million. Bowdoin’s climbed 2.18 percent to $2.1 million, and Bowdoinham’s increased 2.36 percent to $2.3 million.

SAD 75 faced a revenue shortfall of nearly $594,000.

“My projection at this point, from the preliminary information we’ve got, is that both because of a combination of changing state funding as well as declining enrollment … we’ll look at a budget that is down from the $34.2 million,” Smith said Monday.

Some sources of funds used to offset revenue losses are no longer available for next year. One was more than $409,000 left from money the district received from the federal Education Jobs Fund program, which could only be used for non-administrative salaries.

Another was about $30,000 in federal impact money the district received because of its military families; with the closure last year of Brunswick Naval Air Station, Smith does not expect those funds for fiscal 2013.

Last year the district used $1.1 million in carry-over funds – $200,000 more than in fiscal 2011 – to offset losses. The amount to be used for next year would be back to about $900,000.

“We’re going to start with preparing a budget that would be no increase to the total local collection that we would ask from the four towns,” Smith said. “… I think we all recognize it’s a difficult economic time to ask for an increase. If we do that … that will represent the fourth year in a row that we will have kept the local contribution the same.”

Like last year, individual towns may see increases or decreases, but the total combined contribution would remain flat.

According to preliminary numbers, state subsidy to SAD 75 could actually increase in fiscal 2013, a change of pace from recent years. The district received $13.7 million for fiscal 2012, a reduction of $1.1 million from the previous year, but could receive nearly $14 million for fiscal 2013.

With net revenue losses taken into account, along with new expenses like negotiated raises and fossil fuel costs, the district must find about $600,000 to maintain a flat tax rate, according to SAD 75 Business Manager Steve Dyer.

“We have a responsibility to recognize the financial limitations that we face, and to be prudent with the resources we have, and (we) can’t do business the way we always have,” Smith said.

Noting that the district still must find ways to provide services, he said, “we’re going to look at how we can do some things differently. The easier decisions have been made in previous years.

“On paper they’re numbers,” Smith continued. “But in reality it’s all about students and staff. And that’s where the hard part comes in, is figuring out how do we do a better job with less resources.”

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.