FAYETTE — Residents expressed major frustration Saturday with proposed town and school spending and dwindling school funding from the state, but they managed to make only relatively minor cuts to those budgets at Town Meeting.

The proposed $2 million school budget was almost 8.6 percent higher than the current year’s, in part because, unlike in past years, there was no surplus money left unspent in previous years to help offset the effect on taxpayers, and the $1.2 million municipal budget was 8 percent higher.

The warrant included items that could raise the town’s property tax rate by $2.25 or more for each $1,000 in assessed property value, which some residents said, repeatedly, is more than many residents can afford to pay.

“This budget, even a drop in the bucket is going to make it spill over,” Selectwoman Lacy Badeau said. “I think we need to look at every dollar, because there are people in this community who can’t absorb a 14 percent tax increase.”

She said she knows there are many people from out of state who own property in Fayette, and the town’s taxes may seem low compared to what they pay in the states where they live. But she said more than 200 residents didn’t pay their full taxes this year, and that number will continue to grow if taxes keep going up.

However other than cutting $40,000 selectmen had sought to raise from taxes to go into a capital reserve fund for the future purchase or major repair of town and school buildings, vehicles and other costly items, residents were able to trim only about $11,000 in spending from the town and school budgets.

Town Manager Mark Robinson and other officials said the school budget is up because this year there wasn’t enough in surplus funds to help lessen the need for new taxes, and state funding for the local school is nearly nonexistent.

The budget included only about $50,000 in state revenue for the local school system. Selectmen, in a letter posted on the town’s website, said state school funding for Fayette plunged from $650,000 in 2008 to only about $50,000 for the coming year.

Superintendent Joseph Mattos said the proposed school budget is composed almost entirely of fixed costs — largely tuition for the 35 middle-schoolers and the 38 high school students who go to schools outside the town. Fayette operates only Fayette Central School in town, which has 74 students in grades pre-kindergarten through 5. When students get too old for that school, the town pays tuition, at a cost of about $10,000 per student, for them to attend other area schools.

Mattos said when fixed costs the system has no control over are excluded, the school budget increase would only be about $40,000, a 3 percent increase.

“The big picture is we don’t have a lot of control in this,” Mattos said. “I only have control over about $59,000 in this budget.”

Resident Audrey Bamford said the increased costs for the schools means it’s time the town reconsider a previous town vote allowing school choice for students, and instead look to strike a deal with a single area school to take Fayette students at lower tuition costs.

Residents did cut spending on school technology by about $8,000, from $46,000.

Brent St. Clair, a Budget Committee member, said the proposed $46,000 for technology was a big number and there are other things the local school should be focusing upon.

And residents, in a motion approved by a margin of only one vote, voted to strip $2,000 from the public safety account by cutting funding for rural patrols from $5,000 to $3,000. The town uses the rural patrols account to pay the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office money for additional patrols focused on Fayette, in addition to regular law enforcement in the area by the sheriff’s office and Maine State Police.

Resident Mary Wright argued against the change, noting the $2,000 difference, if shared equally by all taxpayers, would cost them each an additional $1.25 for the year.

Other residents said small additions to the budget add up to ongoing increases, and some said the small increase in the frequency of police patrols in Fayette because of the additional funding is neither noticeable nor worth the money.

The 2017-2018 property tax rate in the town is $16.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

About 70 people attended the roughly four-hour annual meeting.

Despite cutting $40,000 selectmen had proposed to put into reserve accounts for future major purchases or repairs, residents did agree to put $26,000 into the reserve funds from the proceeds of the sales of propoerty acquired through failure to pay taxes.

Selectman Joseph Young said over the last several years Fayette has had the lowest tax rate around, compared to surrounding communities. But he said it has done so by not putting money away so the town has it ready to make major repairs or purchases such as a firetruck at a cost of up to $450,000, instead of having to go out and borrow the entire amount.

“We’re at the point where the reserve funds we have are at a level where we may not even be able to pay our bills in the dry period when taxes aren’t being paid,” he said. “Folks, we’ve held off as long as we can. We’ve reached the point we can’t afford to not put money in the bank anymore.”

Voters, asked to weigh in on an advisory question about whether selectmen should hold a referendum in November to see if the town should spend money to enforce state junkyard laws, agreed to do so.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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