Voters in the five towns Regional School Unit 18 approved the $33.75 million budget for the coming year during Tuesday’s district budget validation referendum — but it wasn’t unanimous.

Voters in China rejected the budget, saying no by a margin of 120-88. In Sidney, the vote was 200 against the spending package and 127 for it. Residents of Belgrade, Oakland and Rome approved the budget.

The approved budget reflects an increase of $1,470,000, or 4.6 percent, over the current year’s budget.

The towns voting yes talled Belgrade, 93-36, Oakland 222-130 and Rome 29-8.

RSU 18 Superintendent Gary Smith said a drop in state funding made it a tough budget.

“As you try to understand the tea leaves, this was the year where the change in the state funding formula, going from being a 56 percent receiver (of state funds) to a 44 percent receiver really hit home — this was the year that transition occurred,” Smith said. “That’s about a $3.7 million shift. What used to come from the state now is expected to come from the local communities.”

School officials said this year’s budget increase was driven by a variety of factors, including contracted salary increases, state cutbacks, energy costs associated with the unexpectedly cold winter, insurance costs, and cases in which certain cost-cutting plans had to be abandoned because they were found to have too great of an impact on students.

The budget’s warrant articles were approved by the district’s Board of Directors, and by district voters at a budget meeting on May 15.

Over the past few years, in an effort to cushion the blow created by state cutbacks and the stagnant economy, the district has drawn on its reserve funds, which are supplemented each year by money that is budgeted but not spent.

Smith has said that the reserve account, which will take another $800,000 hit in the proposed budget, is significantly beneath the recommendations of auditors.

According to the district’s most recent budget, the reserve account should be at $1.4 million; instead, it is at less than half that, about $600,000.

Last year, voters approved a 1 percent increase for the district. The year before, in 2012, budget increases were twice rejected by voters, forcing the district to submit a flat budget, which was approved.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287 | mhhetling@centralmaine.com | Twitter: @hh_matt Doug Harlow — 612-2367 | dharlow@centralmaine.com | Twitter: @Doug_Harlow