SAD 75 budget passes pre-referendum test

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TOPSHAM — Fewer than 30 voters from School Administrative District 75 on May 25 approved a proposed budget in about as many minutes.

Most of the seats at the Orion Center remained empty during the May 25 district budget meeting, the first of two public votes on SAD 75’s fiscal 2018 spending plan.

The budget validation referendum will be held at polling places around the district from 8 a.m.- 8 p.m. June 13: the Topsham Fairgrounds Exhibition Hall, Cundy’s Harbor Community Building and Elijah Kellogg Church in Harpswell, the Old Orr’s Island School House, Bowdoin Central School, and Bowdoinham Town Hall.

Sparse attendance at last week’s meeting echoed that of other public hearings during this budget season. Business Manager Mark Conrad said the next day that he thought a variety of factors contributed to a smooth process, despite an expected $367,000 cut in state subsidy.

“The Board of Directors was sensitive to the impact of declining funds on local taxpayers, and therefore they limited the increase in the operating budget to just 1.6 percent,” Conrad said. “Because of declining costs in such areas as high school construction, computer replacements and debt service, the board was able to maintain programs and services within that limited increase.”

Additionally, he said, “thoughtful discussions among the board, the superintendent, school administrators and program administrators enabled both the superintendent and board to be very strategic in making a limited number of reductions and increases within the budget in a manner that will enable us to better meet the needs of our students and staff in the coming year.”

The $38 million budget reflects an increase of $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.

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.

Additions in the spending plan 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).

Construction costs related to a new Mt. Ararat High School will appear in later budgets, and not impact next year’s spending plan.

Construction of 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 bonds going out in spring 2019, and the school opening in fall 2020.

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.