SAD 75 officials hope to reduce budget increase

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TOPSHAM — Although the proposed School Administrative District 75 budget would increase 2.14 percent next year, school officials hope several factors will help shave the hike in the coming weeks.

Those factors were discussed March 30 in the third of three sparsely attended public hearings on the fiscal year 2018 spending plan, which drew two members of the public to Bowdoinham Community School.

The proposed $38.2 million budget – which does not include adult education – has factored in an 8 percent increase, or nearly $458,000, in health insurance costs. SAD 75 has in the last two years either had no hike or a small reduction, so the district is due for an increase, although Business Manager Mark Conrad said last month he hopes it will not be as high as 8 percent.

SAD 75 administrators should have a better idea of the rate later this month.

The district has also not considered any savings due to retirements – newer employees tend to be paid on a smaller pay scale – and SAD 75 could also receive more state subsidy than the $14.25 million presently proposed, a reduction from the current fiscal year of $367,000.

Within that reduction is a $60,000 decline in debt service reimbursement from the state, since SAD 75’s state-approved debt service is dropping by the same amount, according to Conrad.

“I’m very hopeful that that 2.14 (budget increase) will go down, and that the (tax impact) numbers on each of the towns will go down,” SAD 75 Superintendent Brad Smith said during the hearing.

Smith is requesting about $168,000 in additions, which includes the first of five years of payments for a new bus ($20,000), an unassigned bus driver/trainer ($43,000), and an educational technician at the Williams-Cone Elementary School ($35,000).

With revenues subtracted from the $38.2 million budget, $23.7 million could come from taxpayers, an increase of $1.2 million over the current local share.

Breaking the tax impact down for each of the district’s four towns, Topsham could pay $9.9 million (up 7.2 percent), Harpswell $7.9 million (up 2.4 percent), Bowdoin $2.9 million (up 5.8 percent), and Bowdoinham $3 million (up 6.5 percent).

The annual tax increase on a typical Topsham home, valued at $182,000, could be $129. The hike could be $45 on a $425,000 Harpswell home, and $125 and $138 on $178,000 homes in Bowdoin and Bowdoinham, respectively.

Construction costs for a new Mt. Ararat High School, approved by district voters March 7, 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 that 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.

“It’s going to be two or three years before you see any direct impact from the new high school project on your operating budget,” Conrad said at last week’s hearing.

Speaking March 31 to the lack of attendance at the recent budget hearings, Smith said, “I’m not sure why the public turnout has been low. We do know that several public meetings were held in conjunction with the high school, and that may be a factor. We are always willing to meet with anyone having questions or concerns.  All they need to do is contact our office and we’ll gladly assist them.”

The SAD 75 office can be reached at 729-9961.

The Finance Committee is due to recommend a budget at the SAD 75 Board of Director’s meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 13, at Mt. Ararat High School. The board is due to approve the spending plan May 11, and residents will then vote on it twice: at a district budget meeting May 25, and a budget validation referendum June 13.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Brad Smith, superintendnent of School Administrative District 75, discusses next year’s proposed budget during a public forum at Bowdoinham Community School March 30.

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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.