SKOWHEGAN — Residents of the six towns in School Administrative District 54 could face $400,000 in tax increases if early budget projections on state aid don’t change, the district superintendent said Monday.

Estimates for fiscal year 2016-17 appear in an early budget draft as being about $180,000 less than actual spending, but a projected drop in state aid of about $442,000 would mean the district would need $400,000 more from taxpayers than the current year, SAD 54 Superintendent Brent Colbry said.

“If we get more state aid, that would change those numbers because we’ll get more revenue,” Colbry said. “Or if we made cuts, that would change those numbers. Once the board knows all of its revenue and all its expenses, it’ll have to make a decision on what to do and that will affect that bottom line.”

The school budget adopted by district voters in June was $34,205,187. The draft budget so far is a spending package of $34,024,850, a decrease of about half a percent, Colbry said.

The need for additional state aid would change the numbers needed from taxpayers, he said.

“This could be true if the initial state subsidy allocations remain unchanged, but there is interest in Augusta to increase state aid to schools,” Colbry said. “It is very early in the budget process and there are a number of variables that have yet to become clear, which will influence the amount of local taxes in the end. We have a long way to go before we will know what the local impact on taxes will be.”

House Democrats joined by two Republicans agreed to provide an extra $23 million in funding for schools to “prevent substandard funds for education and avoid crippling increases in property taxes for our families,” according to a transcript of a radio address on tax conformity released Feb. 9 by the House Speaker’s office.

The tax conformity bill went to the Maine Senate two days later and has yet to be acted upon.

Colbry said the district has made some financial gains this year in lower costs for fuel and a negotiated contract for electricity, but uncertainties remain in the cost of health care benefits and professional salaries. A new contract with district teachers currently is in negotiation.

Local allocations, or taxes paid to support the budget beyond what the state provides, also will be changing in its spread over the district towns of Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Skowhegan and Smithfield. Skowhegan’s projected share of the overall budget will be down to 65.86 percent from 66.85 percent, because of the lower tax valuation of the Sappi paper mill.

The other five district towns will pick up the difference with Norridgewock again shouldering the lion’s share of the increase because of higher property valuations in that town, Colbry said.

Colbry said he is confident that school districts in central Maine will see an increase in state aid on the coattails of increases in Maine’s larger communities.

“The most important trend that we show to the board is that every district is losing money,” he said. “Portland, Auburn, Lewiston, Bangor — the bigger cities — they’re losing, so I’m encouraged that that may help push the Legislature to try to create some additional money because all of the major cities are being negatively affected.”

Colbry said local spending packages are going to the various school board committees for review this month with a tentative date of April 14 for adoption of a budget draft by the full school board. He said he will meet in May with the various boards of selectmen in the district to present the budget proposal.

A district budget informational hearing is set for May 12 with the budget meeting and votes by SAD 54 residents May 24. The district budget validation referendum is June 14.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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