Voters fill out ballots Tuesday in the Richmond Town Garage. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

HALLOWELL — The controversial $32.61 million Regional School Unit 2 budget passed Tuesday with a 51-vote margin.

Tonya Arnold is superintendent of Regional School Unit 2, which serves Dresden, Farmingdale, Hallowell, Monmouth and Richmond. Contributed photo

The budget received 944 votes in favor and 893 against the budget, according to a Kennebec Journal counting of the unofficial results.

Also on the ballot for RSU 2 was Richmond’s proposal to withdraw from the district, which failed due to lack of voter turnout. In order to verify the vote, 822 Richmond voters needed to show up, and they only had 550.

Municipalities within RSU 2 were vocal about the proposed budget, which has an increase of $985,149 in comparison to last year’s budget. Some town officials advised residents to vote against it and other community members told fellow residents to vote in favor of it. Dresden has even explored leaving the school district because of the hike in the budget.

The RSU 2 administration and school board will make the budget official Thursday night, at a public meeting at 6 p.m. virtually over Zoom, according to Superintendent Tonya Arnold, who did not comment further Wednesday.

The budget won approval in Hallowell (116 in favor to 86 against) and Richmond (354-178). Dresden, Monmouth and Farmingdale did not pass the budget.

Monmouth voters were the most evenly split among the five communities, with 352 votes in favor and 376 against. Dresden opposed the plan 59-145, while Farmingdale voted 63-108 to defeat it.

Monmouth originally reported 282 votes in favor of the budget, but on Wednesday revised that number to 352 after recounting absentee ballots and double checking the vote, Town Manager Linda Cohen said.

RSU 2 asked voters to pass next year’s $32,606,636 budget — an increase of $985,149 over last year. As for the total town allocation, the proposed amount was set at $17,837,633 to be raised by the five municipalities, with the increase giving each municipality at least a 7% hike in their local contribution.

Board Chair Jonathan Hamann said the board is “thankful” the budget passed, as they “did not want to cut programs or positions” in the event the board would have to trim the budget. Hamann added he is hopeful state Legislature will pass the supplemental budget, which he said could grant the district up to $850,000 to be shifted from local funding to state funding to “greatly reduce the local tax impact of the budget.”

“With the budget passed, we can now focus our efforts on planning for a full return to school in the fall and allow our RSU 2 team to enjoy a much-needed summer vacation with their families,” he said.

RICHMOND’S WITHDRAWAL

The town of Richmond failed to gather enough voters to follow through with the nearly two-year long withdrawal process from Regional School Unit 2.

Richmond had 550 voters turn out on Tuesday, falling nearly 300 voters short of 822 — the amount the Maine Department of Education says was needed to verify the election. That minimum threshold figure is calculated based on the last gubernatorial election, and ha to surpass 50% of the turnout in that 2018 election.

The total number of votes for the withdrawal were 434 in favor and 98 against, with 18 voters leaving the question blank.

The process started in November 2019 when a group of 164 Richmond residents petitioned to leave the RSU and in March 2020, a majority voted in favor of leaving. A committee of five formed and they formally started the process in April.

The withdrawal committee waited nearly six months for documents from RSU 2 so the town could move forward in the process. Because of the wait, the town’s withdrawal process was pushed back from a November election date — coinciding with a presidential election and a typically higher voter turnout — to June 8.

Withdrawal Committee Member O’Neil LaPlante said in March the decision for Richmond’s withdrawal is for a “relationship that never came to fruition.”

According to Kim Lane, another withdrawal committee member, the committee is “exploring” options for its next steps.

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