OAKLAND — A $34.4 million school budget was adopted Thursday evening by voters at the Regional School Unit 18 budget meeting at Messalonskee High School.

It took more than 100 voters from the towns of Oakland, China, Sidney, Belgrade and Rome roughly two hours to approve 15 warrant articles.

In an opening statement, school board Chairwoman Laura Tracy, of Oakland, encouraged voters to approve the warrant amounts as proposed. The board had spent considerable time working on the budget and believed it had found a balance between its responsibility to provide a sound education for its students and sensitivity to the hard earned money of taxpayers in the district, she said.

Adjusting that balance by amending the warrant articles to increase or decrease funding could cause the budget to fail in the upcoming budget referendum, Tracy said.

“A tipping of the balance could result in poorer education for our students, or it could result in an undue burden to our taxpayers. Either impact could be adverse and could lead us all to yet another contentious voting cycle,” Tracy said.

Voters rejected an earlier $34.7 million budget in a referendum last month. Following the defeat, the school board made almost $293,000 in cuts to bring the budget down to a level voters would find amenable.

At the meeting when it adopted the cuts, the board also voted to leave the warrant articles “open,” meaning that voters could add or subtract funding from the account, but Tim Russell, a Sidney resident and selectman, raised a point of order about the practice.

The wording of the articles asked voters whether they wanted to approve a certain amount of money per area of the budget, such as general education or special education.

By law, that structure precluded voters from raising the budgeted amount, Russell argued. If the board had wanted the budget articles to be open, it would have had to restructure the warrant to ask voters what amount they would like to approve for each article and present them with the board’s recommendation of funding.

Moderator Bob Nutting agreed with Russell. As worded, voters could not act on open warrant articles, and he would not entertain any motion to increase the amount presented, Nutting said.

There was little debate about the budget articles, but several voters questioned the district’s spending and asked for detailed breakdowns of percentage increases over last year of each warrant.

The $34.4 million budget, including adult education, is about 1.9 percent larger than the 2014-15 spending plan. If approved by voters at the referendum next week, the increase on annual property taxes for a home worth $100,000 would be $69 in Belgrade, $78 in Oakland, $98 in China, $21 in Rome and $83 in Sidney, Smith said.

Voters also defeated an amendment, proposed by Oakland resident Tyler Backus, that would have allowed the district to use any additional funding from the state to offset taxes. The Legislature might approve tens of millions in additional funding for general purpose education next year, Russell said, addressing the crowd.

If it materializes, the money would reduce taxes, and if not, the amendment wouldn’t have any consequence, Russell said.

Superintendent Gary Smith has said that additional state money would be directed to the district’s cash reserve. The district has about $270,000 in its reserve, a balance its attorneys and financial advisers think is too low, Smith said. A balance of closer to $1 million would be healthier, he said.

Despite the prospect of lowering taxes, voters ultimately decided that the article, which used wording from a meeting in School Administrative District 52, was inappropriate for the district. They overwhelmingly voted down Backus’ motion.

The budget now goes to voters in a second budget referendum scheduled for Wednesday, June 30.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

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