SAD 75 budget gets board OK, goes to public votes

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TOPSHAM — Following a public hearing May 11 that drew no comment, the School Administrative District 75 Board of Directors unanimously approved a $38 million budget for the next fiscal year.

The spending plan now goes to two public votes: a district budget meeting at the Orion Performing Arts Center at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 25, and a budget validation referendum in the four-town district Tuesday, June 13.

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

Breaking the tax impact down for each of the district’s 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 hike 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.

Business Manager Mark Conrad in an interview May 12 noted this year’s budget process was relatively smooth. “Many of our board members sat in on the Finance Committee meetings, and they were well informed on the budget,” he said, “so I think any questions they may have had were answered in the course of the process.”

“I think it was a positive process, and we’ve not heard concerns from our citizens about the budget being put forth,” Conrad added, noting that residents still have the opportunity to weigh in May 25.

The district’s health insurance rate is due to increase 1.37 percent, or almost $309,000. Helping to offset that, as well as 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 the fiscal 2018 operating budget.

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

School construction costs 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 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 almost $105,000, thanks to the current life cycle of the equipment.

Despite several cost reductions, SAD 75 also faces a $367,000 cut 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 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).

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.