The Monmouth Select Board met Wednesday night and discussed the impact Regional School Unit 2’s $32.61 million budget would have on the town next year. Monmouth is seeing a 9.5% increase to the town allocation. Via Zoom.

Monmouth Select Board Member Kristin Sanborn said if the Regional School Unit 2 budget keeps increasing at the pace it does each year, residents will be priced out of the town.

Collectively, as a board, Monmouth selectmen said Wednesday night that they felt like they “had to” say something about the steep increase proposed for next year’s school budget for RSU 2. The budget is slated to go up 3.2%, to $32.61 million, but the local allocation for the five municipalities is going up by $1.3 million for positions the district deems necessary that the state won’t cover.

Monmouth board members join the majority of municipal officials within the school district who agree the budget is too much for residents to handle and were upset there is no “Plan B” for the spending plan.

Sanborn, co-owner of the dental handpiece repair and sales business Hayes Maine, said the district “can’t spend more than they can take in.”

“If they want to call it a corporation, they have to run it like one,” she said. “If costs are exceeding revenue, something has to give. … It’s not a bottomless well, there has to be an end in sight.”

The communities in RSU 2 will vote on the budget Tuesday, June 8.

Other municipal officials in the district are speaking out as well. Longtime former school board member from Hallowell and City Councilor Diana Scully said she is taken aback by the 7% increase for Hallowell under the school spending plan, and by the fact that it’s “the smallest increase of all the RSU 2 communities.” She mentioned the less than 1% increase to Regional School Unit 38 and the Augusta Public School System budgets for next year — RSU 38 was able to knock $2,000 off of property taxes for three of its four towns.

Scully said she hasn’t heard much from Hallowell residents about the budget, but pointed out there are sidewalks to be put in and roads to be paved — adding the fire department has been asking for a new firetruck for years. She doesn’t know if these projects would be possible if the RSU 2 school budget passes.

“Maybe there needs to be a look at how you weigh and balance” the needs of the school district and the overall community Scully said. “There are a lot of things put off in the municipal budget, because we try to avoid large increases for people in our little city.”

THEIR RESPONSIBILITY 

Some town officials say they’re upset at school board Chairperson Jon Hamann’s comment at a meeting a couple weeks ago when he said the town budgets are “not their responsibility,” referring to the school board.

“My father sat on the school board for 15 years,” Sanborn said. “Never would he have said he is not responsible for the town. He is responsible for the taxpayers that elected him and he was always mindful of that.”

At Wednesday night’s Monmouth Select Board meeting, Vice Chairperson Timothy McDonald said a house valued at $200,000 could see an increase of, at minimum, $200 to their property taxes.

McDonald told the board statistics with tax rates for the town over the past 10 years — he said the average house in Monmouth had around a $50 increase to their property taxes each year. He is concerned about the amount in the long run if the school budget keeps increasing the way it has.

Additionally, board members said they were both upset the district has no “Plan B” despite municipal officials asking for one at a meeting a couple of weeks ago. Sanborn suggested they look for different insurance options for vehicles, or buildings, instead of changing staff’s health insurance plans.

Though they’re critical of the increase, all board members made a point to say they weren’t “ganging up on the teachers,” but rather did not think the school board explored different options for the budget in order to make the increase go down.

The select board questioned how the budget would change if Richmond, and now Dresden, vote to leave the RSU. Dresden currently does not have a formal plan to do so, but it was discussed after the Dresden select board saw the increase tax payers would have to pay next year.

Hamann was in attendance and said Thursday after the meeting he was upset none of the selectmen asked the three RSU 2 school board members in attendance the questions they had about the budget.

“What I heard last night was not a discussion of any of the figures presented to your group last week,” Hamann said, “but merely several members of the board expressing their opinion and making multiple false statements about the RSU 2 board and our proposed budget.”

Hamann said in the past, Monmouth has “always voted” for the budget and RSU 2 board members are “also taxpayers.” However, last year’s Monmouth’s town allocation raised by 5.19% for the current year’s budget.

The school board chairperson said he was disappointed a “withdrawal” was discussed at Monmouth’s meeting on Wednesday, but McDonald brought it up as a discussion point, not as a formal committee the town was going to form. It was brought up over the question of passing the vote, where McDonald said at least 50% of votes across the district would have to be in favor of the budget in order for it to pass.

“Being a member of the RSU has allowed Monmouth to offer students increased opportunities across the board, while enjoying the cost of the RSU purchasing power,” Hamann said. “I would hate for one difficult year to diminish the net positive effect from the past 12 years.”

In his statement to the Kennebec Journal, Hamann referred to the Drummond Woodsum & MacMahon School Law Advisory in response to his comment about the school board “not being responsible” for the town budget.

“The school committee acts like a public board,” the law advisory states. “It in no sense represents the town. Its members are chosen by the voters of the town, but after the election they are public officers, driving the authority from the law and responsible to the State for good faith and rectitude of their acts.”

Hamann called for the Monmouth Select Board to host another work session so questions could be asked by the public and answered by the RSU 2 school board representatives from the town.

OTHER REACTIONS 

Maureen AuCoin, city councilor for Hallowell, agreed with fellow councilor Scully and said “the town is faced with very few options” after being presented the RSU 2 budget.

“We are forced to either cut municipal services, increase property taxes and raise the mil rate, or seek new revenue sources to supplement our budget,” she said. “None of these are long-term, sustainable funding solutions.”

AuCoin said the city has already reduced the municipal side of its budget “to bare bones” and the existing mil rate of 21.50 is “already a burden” to residents.

Dresden, like Hallowell and the other communities that make up the RSU, would also have trouble funding capital projects if the RSU 2 budget passes. Dresden School Board Member Jeffrey Pierce was the only voter against the town allocation vote.

Dresden Select Board Member John Rzasa said earlier this week to the Kennebec Journal he is planning on sending flyers to Dresden resident’s mailboxes to spread awareness of the budget increase. He doesn’t want voting day to be the first day residents see the budget.

“We are going to do the best we can here in town to have people vote no on it,” he said. “I just don’t think it’s good for the town.”

He, along with other select board member, Gerald Lilly, are worried about there not being a Plan B in the school budget. Both Dresden selectmen said the town is still planning on forming a committee to leave the RSU.

“It’s alarming to me every year,” Lilly said of the budget. “Every year it goes up and it never goes down, people don’t get those kind of raises in their jobs, so it takes money away from something else.”

Farmingdale’s Select Board Chairperson Doug Ebert said he has gotten questions about residents being discouraged with the way the budget was handled by the RSU 2 school board and the way in which the budget was raised. He said they are going to encourage people at their town meetings to show up and vote and try to spread awareness of the budget over social media.

The same day the towns will vote on the budget, Richmond will vote if they would like to withdraw from RSU 2. A member of the withdrawal committee for Richmond, O’Neil Laplante said he keeps hearing the RSU 2 administrative officials say the budget increase is due to teacher contracts.

“I keep hearing it’s the teacher’s salaries,” he said. “That’s a static amount. If we sign a contract, we know what it means for the next three years.”

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