FREEPORT — Voters in Freeport, Durham and Pownal passed the Regional School Unit 5 budget Tuesday night, but defeated a nearly $3 million bond for an athletics complex.
Both decisions were made along community lines, illustrating the divide between voters in Freeport and the two other towns.
The $23.9 million school budget was approved 1,289 to 898. Voters in Pownal and Durham rejected the spending plan by 513 votes, but Freeport’s overwhelming support of the budget pushed it through.
Pownal voted against the budget 204-134; voters in Durham rejected it 309-214; and Freeport voted in favor, 941-385.
The referendum to borrow for an eight-lane track, artificial turf field, lights, bleachers, press box and concessions area at Freeport High School was rejected 1,350 to 884.
Voters in Pownal voted against the proposal 273-74; voters in Durham rejected it 431-102, and Freeport residents voted in favor of the project 708-646.
The referendums attracted about 21 percent of registered voters in the three towns. Unofficial results on Tuesday night revealed about 22 percent of registered voters cast ballots in Freeport, 28 percent came out in Pownal and about 17 percent participated in Durham.
The $23.9 million budget will increase taxes for residents in all three towns.
In Pownal, residents will pay $5,400 in new taxes, a 0.33 percent increase. Durham residents will face a $44,400 tax hike, or 1.45 percent. And Freeport residents will pay an additional $170,900, an increase of 1.30 percent.
Superintendent of Schools Shannon Welsh said she is very pleased that the budget was approved.
“It is a fiscally responsible budget that will ensure a strong economic program for our students,” Welsh said.
While the the total budget referendum passed by about 400 votes, Welsh said the campus complex was voted down by about the same amount.
She speculated that the economic climate may have been a factor in the vote on the athletics complex.
“Although it appears the economy is recovering, people are not as confident about the financial environment as we hoped,” Welsh said.
She said the $56,000 put aside for the first interest payment on the $3 million, 15-year bond would remain in a contingency fund and could be used for emergency purposes or when the RSU 5 School Board deems it necessary.
“In presenting the plan, we heard it was a great concept, but people are concerned about the economic times,” she said. “We need to address the field issues at the high school, but the residents told us this is not the economic time to make those improvements.”
Durham resident Maryhelen Rice said she did not support the athletics complex, and called the increase in taxes “awful.” She said residents in Durham feel like a minority in the RSU 5 district.
“It’s about time we said no to the children,” she said. “Kids don’t need all of this.”
Craig Sickels, athletic administrator for RSU 5, called the vote disheartening. He said he is unsure how to proceed.
“I think the fundraising committee will have to regroup,” Sickels said. “(Nearly $3 million) is a lot to raise on our own and I’m not sure if there is any energy or motivation to do that at this point.”