Yarmouth school budget gets huge support from Town Meeting

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YARMOUTH — More than 430 residents attended Town Meeting Tuesday night, where they overwhelmingly passed a contested $23.1 million school budget.

The fiscal 2017 budget, approved by a vote of 363-73, now goes to a voter referendum June 14.

The municipal budget of almost $12 million was also approved at the annual meeting, but the vote was done by a show of hands and no tally was conducted.

The Frank Harrison Middle School gymnasium was packed June 7 as residents came out to vote on the school budget that has generated unprecedented debate and opposition over the past few months. The budget is an increase of almost $1.1 million, or 4.97 percent, over current spending.

Some residents have said the increase is needed to help Yarmouth students, while others said the tax burden is too high, especially for those on fixed incomes.

Throughout April and May residents filled the Log Cabin to capacity for unprecedented discussions about the budget. “Yes” and “no” signs were visisble on properties all over town.

Resident Ron Terry on Tuesday night addressed the crowd, which included members of the Town Council and the School Committee, to talk about the depth of the issue. He said the disagreement over the school budget is so complex that someone would have to study the issue for 40 hours a week for a year to understand it. Town Manager Nat Tupper told the crowd he agreed with Terry.

Another resident, Brian Bicknell, said being opposed to the school budget didn’t mean being opposed to education.

“We’re not anti-education,” he said. “However, a 5 percent increase is a big increase and some people are on a fixed income.”

Each of the 15 warrant articles related to the school budget was considered individually, with votes indicated by raising a piece of paper. The majority of residents approved each item, while a dozen or fewer voted against each school warrant article.

Town Councilor Pat Thompson, who voted against the budget May 5 when it was before the council, voted against many of the warrant articles.

In accordance with state law, the vote on the total school budget required a secret ballot.

While the votes were being tallied, Bruce Soule of the Tax Study Committee, a group that opposed the school budget, said he was happy so many people attended the meeting.

“It’s a great turnout and it wouldn’t have happened, I don’t think, if we hadn’t raised the questions we did,” he said.

Soule said he hopes the School Committee takes the concerns into consideration next year.

“The School Committee needs to look closely at all the items in the budget,” he said. “They owe it to the Yarmouth taxpayers.”

The seven articles related to the municipal budget were voted on publicly, with few people opposed to any individual item. The budget is reduced about $66,000, or 0.55 percent, from the current year.

The town is conducting a revaluation, which will contribute to a lower total tax rate of $18.48 per $1,000 of assessed value. The new tax rate represents a decrease of $3.08 from the current year, or 14.29 percent.

Voting on the school budget referendum, and for Town Council, School Committee, Yarmouth Water District trustee and state primary election candidates, will take place 7 a.m.-8 p.m. June 14 at the AMVETS Hall on North Road.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Most of the 430 residents at Town Meeting in Yarmouth were in favor of the $23.1 million school budget, which passed 363-73 on Tuesday, June 7.

Town Councilor Pat Thompson was the only member of the council to vote against the $23.1 million school budget during the public voting portion of Town Meeting in Yarmouth on Tuesday, June 7.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.