FAIRFIELD — Members of the town council are encouraging residents to attend upcoming school budget meetings to voice their concerns with tax increases it proposes.

One Councilor, Stephanie Thibodeau, is even urging voters to reject the budget entirely.

“When it comes time to vote, if they are not happy with what they are seeing, they need to vote it down,” Thibodeau said in a recent interview.

The $26.3 million budget proposed by the school board is almost 5 percent, about $1.2 million, more than last year. If passed, it could mean a 10-15 percent property tax increase in the district’s four towns, Fairfield, Benton, Clinton and Albion. The increases would add more than $200 a year in taxes for a home valued at $100,000.

The last of four information sessions on the budget is 6 p.m. Thursday at Lawrence Junior High School.

School board members blame most of the budget increase on cost shifts from the state that include funding for Maine state retirement and roughly $461,000 to send students to charter schools. In addition, school officials predict the district will lose about $412,000 in state subsidies next year.

The budget also includes about $694,000 in raises for staff, including money to increase the salary for first-year teachers in order to stay competitive with surrounding districts, according to school board members.

In a letter sent to voters on Wednesday, Superintendent Dean Baker said that for the first time in seven years, the school board is not recommending staff cuts.

“This budget reflects the board’s efforts to balance needs and costs, quality and economy,” Baker said.

But Fairfield officials are concerned about the tax increases the school budget entails.

Councilor Michael Taylor said one of his concerns is that there will be more tax hikes in the future.

“Personally, I feel that it is unsustainable in a residential community,” he said. If future budgets had to include “astronomical” tax increases, the school board should start thinking “outside the box” about different ways to reduce expenses, Taylor said.

Constituents have raised concerns about the budget to him personally, Taylor said, and one even said the increases would force him to move out of town. Taylor encouraged residents to come to the information session and attend the May 7 school budget meeting.

Aaron Rowden, another Fairfield councilor, said there was a public perception that the school budget was “administration heavy and not necessarily to advance the mission of the school district.”

The school budget comes on top of a more than 2 percent increase in the municipal budget that already includes a small tax increase, Rowden said.

“It is ultimately up to the voters to decide if it is something that they are comfortable with,” he said.

So far, however, concern over the budget increases has not resulted in more public participation.

In Albion, residents appear to be removed from the budget process, according to Board of Selectmen Chairman Mike Getchell.

“Most people aren’t aware of what’s going on until they get that tax bill,” Getchell said.

“They should get involved,” he said. “It’s not good. It’s going to make a lot of taxpayers unhappy.”

Information sessions in Benton and Clinton last week were attended by five or fewer people, indicating the level of public participation in the budget, said School Board Chairman Steven Grenier. He didn’t expect sessions in Albion on Wednesday or Fairfield on Thursday to draw larger crowds.

“It’s too bad,” Grenier said. “If they are that worried, they should show up, because this is when they can have some influence on the process.”

Residents of the four towns will vote on the budget in a preliminary budget meeting held at 7 p.m. next Thursday, May 7, at Lawrence Junior High School.

A ballot referendum will be held on the school budget in the four towns on Tuesday, May 19.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire


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