Difficulty passing a 2015-2016 school budget in Newport-based Regional School Unit 19 has prompted officials in St. Albans to host a discussion on the importance of budget validation meetings in the budget approval process.

Residents from all eight communities in the district are invited to the discussion at a Board of Selectmen’s meeting to follow a special town meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday.

The discussion was prompted by a proposed $23.4 million school budget for 2015-2016 that passed in a budget validation meeting but was narrowly rejected by voters on June 30.

“It was just something the Board of Selectmen wanted to set up,” said St. Albans Town Manager Rhonda Stark. “They want to have a discussion with the public and make sure they know the process. If people are going to vote on the school budget, they tend to skip the meeting, because they know there’s the validation referendum.”

State law requires the two-step budget approval process, which includes a town meeting-style district budget meeting followed by a referendum in which residents vote on the budget in their individual towns. If the budget does not pass the referendum, but passes at the meeting, the district can operate on the budget that was passed.

“Now we’re in a situation where each municipality in the district got a bill, and they said that in the next budget round we’ll have a new budget that is adjusted accordingly,” Stark said. “But the whole process has slowed down.”

She said it can be a challenge for municipalities that are trying to figure out tax bills in the midst of uncertainty over the school budget.

“We need our money to run our towns on, so we have to commit our taxes using the budget that ultimately failed,” Stark said.

The school budget process in the district was late this year because officials were waiting to see what amount of state aid the district would be getting, said Regional School Unit 19 Superintendent Greg Potter. The district includes Corinna, Dixmont, Etna, Hartland, Newport, Palmyra, Plymouth and St. Albans.

With a small voter turnout, the budget failed by a vote of 264-251. “We’re in the process of revising and having a second attempt at having a budget,” Potter said.

The revised budget will be about $80,000 less than the original budget because of a decrease in the projected amount of state funding by about $140,000, Potter said.

He said the reductions will not reduce staffing but come from the re-bidding of insurance and auditing costs and some reductions in supplies.

A new budget meeting is scheduled for Aug. 11 at Nokomis High School in Newport and a new referendum is scheduled for Sept. 9.

“We want residents to know how the whole process works so that hopefully they’ll start getting out to both meetings, not just the second one,” Stark said.

A special town meeting in which residents will consider the creation of drug-free zones around playgrounds, parks and sports fields is also scheduled Monday before the regular board meeting.

The Drug Free Zone Ordinance would elevate the penalties for persons convicted of trafficking or furnishing drugs within 1,000 feet of designated safe zones.

The special town meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at the St. Albans Town Hall with a regular selectmen’s meeting to follow.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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