FARMINGTON – For the first time in recent memory, Regional School Unit 9 voters have rejected the district’s second budget proposal, setting the stage for a third budget vote later this year.

Unofficial vote counts from the district’s 10 towns show 1290 residents voted in favor of the $33.9 million budget and 1429 voted against it, defeating the proposal by a 139 vote margin. This latest defeat marks the third year running in which the district has been forced to present multiple budgets for voter approval.

District administrators and the board of directors now have 45 days to formulate and bring a new budget before voters. In the interim, the district will operate on the $33.9 million budget approved at the July 25 annual budget vote.

In a statement Friday, RSU 9 superintendent Thomas Ward said the board would return to budget deliberations at its next meeting on Tuesday, August 8.

“Developing a budget is a process,” Ward wrote in an email. “The Board and Administration are charged with presenting a budget to our communities that based on the data we have best meets the needs of our children.”

Thursday’s voting results appear to mirror those of the June 13 budget referendum vote with three towns, Farmington, Starks and Vienna, approving the budget, while Weld, Temple, Chesterville, Wilton, New Vineyard, Industry and New Sharon ultimately brought the budget down. For some towns, these voting patterns have persisted across the past six budget votes.

The arguments for each side, those who have favored and opposed district budget approvals, are by now well worn. Those opposing the budget argue that school assessments have become unsustainable for their towns while those who vote in favor frame their vote as an extension of their support for education and district schools.

It might be expected, then, that those towns that have consistently rejected the schools budgets are among the most economically fragile in the district while those towns that vote in favor, like Farmington, have seen stronger economic growth and higher incomes. But a look at census data for RSU 9’s 10 towns show a wide range of economic conditions that do not always match up with town voting patterns.

In the town of Starks, for instance, residents grappled with the highest unemployment and poverty rates in the district in 2015 and the second highest child poverty rates that year. Starks also had the highest percentage of residents without health insurance despite having the second highest percentage of people participating in the workforce. Yet Starks voters have supported each of the last six budget proposals, often by large margins.

Meanwhile in New Sharon, where voters have rejected every budget proposal for the last three years, residents enjoyed the second highest median household income in the district, $45,800, and the highest workforce participation rate of all the towns. In 2015, unemployment in New Sharon hovered around 3.5 percent, compared with 8.3 percent in Starks and 7.8 percent in Vienna. New Sharon has also experienced lower poverty rates than all but three district towns,

Chesterville, which has also opposed the last six budgets, had the third highest workforce participation and unemployment rates in the district in 2015 while Farmington, which has supported every budget, had some of the highest percentages of people living in poverty and relying on public assistance in the district. Chesterville also had the third highest unemployment rate in the district, 7.1 percent, while New Vineyard, which has also rejected each of the last six budgets, had the lowest unemployment rate, 2.2 percent, along with Temple, whose residents have rejected five of the last six budgets.

The data for other towns appeared more mixed. The town of Weld boasted the highest median household income, $49,000, of all the district towns in 2015 and the second highest average income, $60,100, but also had the highest percentage of residents not participating in the workforce, 62.1 percent. Weld has rejected the last two district proposals but voted in favor of each of the 2015 and 2016 budget options.

New Vineyard has struggled with some of the highest child poverty rates of all towns in the district, 33.8 percent in 2015; high rates of uninsured, 17.2 percent; and a large percentage of the population no longer participating in the workforce, 47.2 percent. New Vineyard residents have voted down each of the last six budget proposals.

Voting patterns also don’t appear to align with property tax rates. In 2015, New Vineyard and Industry had the second and third lowest mill rates in the district yet both towns rejected the first schools budget. Weld, with the lowest mill rate by nearly half, passed the budget in both rounds of voting that year.

A look at the higher mill rates makes more sense of town voting patterns. Temple, which has rejected all six budgets, had the highest mill rate in 2015, 21.31. Wilton, with the second highest mill rate in 2015, has voted down four of the last six budgets.

However, Farmington, with a mill rate of 19.44, the third highest in 2015, remains an anomaly in its consistent support for the district budget and speaks, perhaps to the fact that school budget vote outcomes run deeper than the numbers might suggest.

Kate McCormick — 861-9218

[email protected]

Twitter: @KateRMcCormick

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