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Low voter turnout for local school budgets

HOULTON, Maine — Voter turnout was sparse for local school budgets in the communities that comprise RSU 29, SAD 70 and RSU 89.

For RSU 29, which serves Houlton, Hammond, Littleton and Monticello, the budget of $14,629,235 for the 2019-20 school year features an increase of $643,160, which is 4.6 percent, over the previous spending plan. The majority of the increase is due to a rise in wages and health benefits.

Residents passed the budget with a vote of 93 in favor and 13 opposed, according to RSU 29 Superintendent Ellen Halliday. A detailed breakdown by town shows, Hammond, six in favor, none opposed; Houlton, 71 in favor, nine opposed; Littleton, nine in favor, three opposed; and Monticello, seven in favor, one opposed.

In addition, residents approved doing away with the referendum process for the next three years. Halliday explained that every three years, districts must ask voters if they wish to have a referendum vote on the budget.

By voting no this year, it means that the RSU 29 budget for the next three years will be passed at the district budget meeting with no need for an additional vote at the June primaries. Residents voted 45 in favor of continuing the referendum, while 61 were opposed. The breakdown by town was: Hammond, 5-1; Houlton, 25-55; Littleton, 8-4; and Monticello, 7-1.

In SAD 70, residents overwhelmingly gave their approval to the district’s $6.6 million spending plan for next year. The budget passed 118 in favor and 32 opposed. The vote by community was: Amity, 7-0; Haynesville, 5-5; Hodgdon, 87-15; Linneus, 8-2; Ludlow, 5-1; and New Limerick, 6-9.

At $6,636,490, the 2019-20 budget is an increase of $156,331 or 2.4 percent over last year’s spending plan. Because of an increase in state funding, however, the actual impact to most taxpayers will be less than the current budget.

As a whole, the tax impact to the six communities that make up SAD 70 will be a decrease of $4,427. The communities of Amity, Hodgdon, Linneus and Ludlow will all see their shares of the budget decrease due to changes in the state valuation. New Limerick, however, will see its share of the budget increase by $50,291.

Voters also agreed to continue the referendum process for another three years, as that question passed 94 in favor and 52 opposed. The vote by community was: Amith, 1-6; Haynesville, 5-3; Hodgdon, 69-31; Linneus, 5-5; Ludlow, 4-2; and New Limerick, 10-5.

The seven communities that comprise RSU 50 (Southern Aroostook) gave their support to the budget, albeit by a much closer margin than in RSU 29 and SAD 70. The $5.5 million spending plan passed 105 in favor and 63 opposed.

The breakdown by community was: Crystal, 7-1; Dyer Brook, 16-6; Hersey, 1-0; Island Falls, 20-16; Merrill, 12-11; Oakfield, 34-27; and Smyrna, 15-2.

At $5,507,084, the spending plan provides the district with enough money to avoid having to make difficult cuts to programs at Southern Aroostook Community School, according to RSU 50 Superintendent Jon Porter. The fiscal plan is up $483,069 from last year. The actual impact to taxpayers, however, will be considerably less thanks to the increase in state subsidies.

The district also will have to continue with referendum votes for the next three years as that article passed 114-55. The breakdown by community was: Crystal, 5-3; Dyer Brook 15-7; Hersey, 1-0; Island Falls, 21-16; Merrill, 16-7; Oakfield, 46-14; and Smyrna, 10-8.

For RSU 89 (Katahdin), a $4.6 million budget met with overwhelming approval by residents, 174 in favor and 27 opposed. At $4,586,399, the district’s budget represents a decrease of $62,257 from the current fiscal plan. The district will receive $2,329,307 in the form of a state subsidy, but in order to receive those funds, the four towns that make up RSU 89 (Patten, Mount Chase, Sherman and Stacyville) must provide $1,819,092 in local contributions.
The district will also continue the referendum process for another three years after residents approved the continuation by a vote of 142-49.

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