WINSLOW — Tensions between members of the Town Council and School Board have boiled over into a new argument concerning whether a document projecting the tax impact of the education budget, which was authored by a councilor, belongs on the town government’s website, prompting calls for a special council meeting to take a formal vote on the matter.

A lengthy and contentious email back-and-forth between council members and school board members was sparked by the posting of a document written by Councilor Ken Fletcher, titled “Possible school budget tax impact,” on the town website May 16.

The document, which was posted May 16, breaks down the projected impact of the 2019 education budget, the $8.1 million school renovation bond and the forecasted 2020 education budget. Town Manager Mike Heavener said Tuesday he reviewed the document and verified Fletcher’s calculations.

School Board Chairman Joel Selwood believes the document is “incomplete, unfair and misleading” and wants it to be removed from the town’s website and replaced with an analysis “reflective of the truth.”

Fletcher emailed town officials Tuesday afternoon calling for the council to meet for a special session as soon as possible to vote on whether the document should stay on the website.

Selwood brought up the issue at Monday’s school board meeting, lodging two complaints about the document. First, he said, Fletcher omitted the estimated $423,000 in savings — or cost avoidance — from closing the junior high and consolidating grades into a two-school campus from his calculation of the bond’s impact on the property tax rate. Second, Selwood questioned why the document’s information was not attributed to an author.

“The $423k in offset that I noted in my first email should be elaborated on to indicate that this would cover 79% of the expected $532k bond payment. Obviously, an important fact,” Selwood wrote in an email to some school and town officials over the weekend. “This $423k in savings/cost avoidance should be noted as to not include much more cost avoidance of repairs that would be required on the junior high if we do not replace it very soon.”

Selwood added that at the meeting Fletcher had adamantly requested the board provide a formal document citing the savings of closing the school and to not include that on his document was “pretty flagrant.”

The document states that the average yearly debt service payment will be at least $532,575 or an average property tax mill rate impact of $0.83 per $1,000 of value which could increase taxes by an average of $121 per year for the median homeowner with a home valued at $140,000.

Fletcher said in an interview Tuesday that he did not include the board’s estimated savings for closing the school because those savings would not be seen until 2021, and the board did not provide a budget forecast for that fiscal year.

“I was very uncomfortable in making an estimation on that,” Fletcher said.

Selwood said he was also concerned that Fletcher did not sign his name to the document to show where the calculations were coming from, especially as Fletcher has voted in opposition to the bond from the beginning.

“Given that Ken has been a consistent dissenting vote on both the school budget and on the junior high project it is completely understandable why this document has the tenor that it does,” Selwood said. “If this is the work of one councilor who does not have the authority to speak on behalf of the council much less on behalf of the town then I would request that the document be removed from the town’s website immediately.”

He added that failing to “correct the issue implies that the town website is now the place for editorial content.”

In response, Fletcher said he did not sign his name because the council had twice discussed creating such a document and that he sent a draft to the rest of the council before it was posted. Councilors did not respond to the email and did not raise concerns before its posting, he said.

Fletcher also said he was frustrated by Selwood’s characterization of Fletcher’s actions and intent in drafting the document.

In an email to town and school officials Friday, Selwood wrote that the document was a political advertisement and potentially an illegal use of taxpayer dollars.

Fletcher said everything that was included in his document was provided by the school administration. He said he wanted to be sure the voters had the necessary information before the referendum because the tax impact projection is not stated in the question voters will see at the polls on June 12.

“I’ve never felt telling people the information or the facts is a political advertisement,” Fletcher said.

Selwood said in his email that he agreed providing the information to the public was important, but did not believe the information on the document was complete.

“While I respect the idea that informing the public is important, information posted on the town website should be accurate, complete, endorsed by the council and/or town manager, and without individual biases, opinions, interpretations or omissions that could be misleading,” he said.

At Monday’s meeting, Selwood and Town Council Chair Steve Russell agreed a special meeting may be needed to take a vote on the document. They also suggested that they would create a “more complete” document to include the potential savings of the consolidation to post on the website.

Emily Higginbotham — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @EmilyHigg

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