OAKLAND — A flat Regional School Unit 18 budget was overwhelmingly approved by voters at Thursday night’s district budget meeting.

The $31,974,420 budget will face its final challenge at a district-wide referendum in the district’s five towns of Belgrade, China, Oakland, Rome and Sidney on Oct. 2.

It will be the third time RSU 18 residents have voters on the budget. A $33 million budget was defeated at the polls in June and a $32.6 million one was rejected in August.

Opponents of the previous versions of the budget have expressed concerns about the impact on local taxpayers, while supporters have said that cuts will have an adverse impact on students.

In order to achieve the flat budget, the district cut $95,000 in building maintenance projects, $35,000 in a bus replacement plan, $75,000 in technology equipment, $78,000 in professional development and $354,223 in salary and benefits reductions, an item that includes a voluntary $225 pay cut for each teacher and administrator.

Board member Donna Doucette said that many of the deferred expenses will have to be addressed in the future.

“Every year we don’t fix the buses or buy a bus or take care of a building, we will be doing it at some point in the future, and it will probably be worse,” she said.

The district has lost millions of dollars in state and federal funding over the past few budget cycles; this year, the effect was moderated in part by the one-time use of roughly $1.45 million from reserve funds.

Because of state funding formulas that are tied to property valuations in the different towns, shifting valuations will cause tax bills to fluctuate, even as the total assessment for the district remains the same.

For a property assessed at $100,000, the flat school budget would result in a $9 increase in Belgrade, an $8 increase in China and a $25 increase in Oakland. In Rome, taxes would decrease by $43 for a property assessed at $100,000 and by $9 in Sidney.

Each of 17 articles representing different areas of the budget passed with overwhelming, though not unanimous, support from voters in attendance.

Tim Russell of Sidney made an effort to trim about $8,000 from the $136,426 adult education budget, which he said was distinct from the main school budget.

“I would like to see adult education flat-funded like most of the articles in these warrants,” he said.

In response to a question, an administrator from the program said that more than 800 locals were enrolled in the program this year.

The amendment to reduce the amount failed on a voice vote.

During a short presentation to the roughly 70 in attendance at the meeting, Superintendent Gary Smith expressed weariness with the lengthy budget process and urged support for the budget from education advocates, even though it might be less than they would like.

“It’s time to move on, that’s my advice,” he said. “The school year is several weeks under way. We have held off making decisions, we have canceled things because we don’t know where this final budget is going to end up. Not knowing where we’ll be for another two months will not be good for students.”

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287

[email protected]

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