FARMINGTON — Regional School Unit 9’s $33.9 million budget proposal appears to have been defeated at the polls Thursday by an unofficial margin of 139 votes.

Turnout for the second budget referendum appeared slightly lower than in the June 13 referendum, when the budget proposal was rejected by a margin of 184 votes and 3,098 district residents went to the polls. In Thursday’s vote, 2,719 people voted.

Unofficial vote counts from the 10 district towns showed 1,429 voting against the budget and 1,290 voting in favor. Farmington residents voted 555 for the budget and 442 against; Wilton, 262-280 against; Starks, 111-23; Chesterville, 55-172; New Vineyard, 25-90; Industry, 54-71; Temple, 50-69; Vienna 51-40; and Weld, 32-38. New Sharon’s vote count was originally reported incorrectly by election clerks Thursday night as 204 yes and 95 no, when, in fact, it was 95 yes and 204 no.

A smaller group of voters approved the new budget in a contentious budget meeting last month, even adding $24,970 to the district’s $33,904,537 proposal in order to fund the American Sign Language position fully at Mt. Blue High School.

The annual budget vote came after the district’s board of directors voted to use more than half of the $729,954 in additional state subsidy to zero out any increases in town’s assessments for schools. The board used the additional funding to create three staff positions, including two social workers and a full-time guidance or school services coordinator. The remaining $165,431 was allotted toward decreasing the amount of money the district would borrow for a voter-approved bond issue for capital improvement projects.

Despite threatening thunderheads Thursday afternoon, a steady stream of Farmington voters made their way to the town’s polling station at the Farmington Community Center on Middle Street. Those who left were evenly split between “no” voters skeptical about district spending and distressed about rising property taxes and “yes” voters who viewed support for the budget as an extension of their support for district schools.

One “no” voter, who declined to be identified, felt as though the district in recent years had failed consistently to factor in the effect of mill closures on local towns.

“The schools want more and more money in a community where we’re losing all of our paper mills and our factories and just can’t support it anymore,” she said.

Kevin Hiltz, 64, another “no” voter and veteran of the Boise Cascade Paper Mill in Rumford, said he could not support the budget while smaller district towns continued to struggle,

“I think they have enough and these small towns like Chesterville and all them have trouble, and they have a hard time as it is,” Hiltz said.

But Elliott Eno, 21, a more recent transplant to Farmington, said he voted in favor of the budget after watching his former district in Dixfield go through a similarly bruising budget fight. Eno said he prioritized education and would prefer to see his taxes go to schools than other types of expenditures.

“My school just went through the same thing and lost its entire music program,” Eno said. “So I’ve seen how bad things can get, and I didn’t want that to happen here.”

With the current budget proposal, town assessments are expected to increase by an average of 0.19 percent to compensate for the $24,970 boost to the board’s budget. Four towns’ assessments would decrease from last year, while five towns would get increases ranging from 0.3 percent to 8.51 percent. Farmington’s assessment is not expected to change.

Kate McCormick — 861-9218

[email protected]

Twitter: @KateRMcCormick

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