RICHMOND — Voters in this northern Sagadahoc County town will decide Tuesday whether they want to investigate leaving Regional School Unit 2 and whether to extend the Pipeline Tax Increment Financing district for 10 more years.

Richmond High School and Middle School, in a photo taken Nov. 20. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

“We’re hoping for a good turnout and that people take the opportunity to weigh in on school withdrawal and on the TIF district extension,” Richmond Town Manager Adam Garland said. “We look forward to getting their direction on these issues.”

These two Richmond-only votes have been scheduled to coincide with the Democratic presidential primary and the statewide referendum seeking to overturn the 2019 law that eliminated most exemptions — including religious exemptions — from state child vaccination requirements.

Because of the timing constraints on both of these issues, neither could wait until Richmond’s Town Meeting in June.

Last November, a group of residents submitted a petition asking the Board of Selectmen to start the process of investigating whether Richmond should withdraw from its school district.

The district, which encompasses Richmond, Monmouth, Dresden, Farmingdale and Hallowell, was among the first to be formed after the school district reorganization law was enacted in 2007. The goal of the law was to improve educational opportunities and promote equity while reducing costs and increasing efficiency.

Last year, residents of RSU 2 voted to endorse the district’s $30.5 million budget, which was up $2.7 million from the previous year.

Local revenues total about $17 million. Of that, about $15 million comes from property tax assessments, while the balance comes from other sources, such as tuition paid by students who live outside the district to attend RSU 2 schools, rentals and use of surplus funds. The state of Maine education subsidy totaled $13.5 million.

Richmond’s share of the local revenue for the district budget was $3.3 million, the second-highest amount paid. Its enrollment as of April 1, 2019, was 453, behind Farmingdale at 454 and Monmouth at 625.

Last year, about 62% of Richmond property tax bills went to the school assessment.

The school district has declined to provide the costs associated with running the Richmond Middle and High School and Marcia Buker Elementary School.

“Current figures or numbers will not neatly translate into what it will cost to run the district in the future,” acting district Superintendent Mary Paine said in an email earlier this year. “There is no way to make that calculation at this early stage of the withdrawal conversation.

“Withdrawal from an RSU is a multiyear project that requires disconnecting all the connected costs that make an RSU an RSU — shared staff, split contracts, debt service agreements, to name a few,” she wrote. “Because we operate as an RSU and do not treat individual towns in isolation, we do not have the kind of information you are asking for. It will take considerable time to determine the costs.”

Paine also noted that it’s likely that taxpayers in any town that decides to leave a school district will see a property tax increase.

Russell Hughes, one of three Richmond representatives to the RSU 2 board, said at public hearing at a Board of Selectmen’s meeting last month that he’s been frustrated because in five years, he’s been unable to improve the quality of Richmond’s schools.

If Richmond residents vote yes, it’s not the final vote. Withdrawing from a school district requires following a 22-step process that starts with the petition and takes months to complete. Residents would have the chance to make a final decision after the costs are known.

Voters will also be asked to approve a budget of $50,000 to pay the costs associated with investing withdrawal.

Two decades ago, Richmond voters put in place a tax increment financing district around the Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline natural gas compressor station and pipelines, encompassing 167 acres. Now that the district’s expiration date is nearing, Richmond voters are being asked to extend the district for 10 more years.

TIF districts are a way for municipalities to shelter property taxes generated by new development within designated districts. Sheltering that money means it would not be included in the town’s total property valuation for tax calculations for state purposes, such as state aid for education or revenue sharing.

Without that, as a town’s valuation increases, revenue provided by the state decreases and the county assessment increases. Any new value sheltered by a TIF district does not count as part of the town’s property tax value.

Under the rules of the TIF program, property tax revenue collected is required to be spent on designated projects. If the renewal is approved, the income from the district would be spent on roads that relate to the TIF district, for example, and economic development activities.

Voting will take place from 8 a.m. to 8 pm. Tuesday at the town’s Public Works Department at 19 High St.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.