Town, schools feel winter’s wrath

10 years ago

By all accounts, this past winter was one of the toughest in recent memory. And it’s not done yet, despite the first day of spring arriving two weeks ago.

Local school districts and municipalities have both felt the financial sting this winter in terms of heating costs, while snow removal also plays a factor in pushing up expenses for many towns.
In Houlton, the municipal government operates on a calendar year budget, but the impact is already being felt just three months into the season. Even though the town operates on a calendar year budget cycle, officials have a winter budget. The winter budget season covers the period of Nov. 1 through to April 1, or five months of the year. Any remaining money in this budget will be used for winter expenses in November and December of this year.
According to Town Manager Eugene Conlogue, the adjusted winter budget for the town is $357,196. To date, the town has spent $188,125.92 (52.7 percent).
“This expenditure is for the period beginning Jan. 1, through to this (Friday, March 28),” Conlogue said. “A caveat, however, there are a number of bills in progress that have not yet been received or paid by the town. Those bills will increase our expenditures. The benchmark for the year so far is just under 60 percent. As of April 1, we will be at 60 percent.”
He said the biggest budget line that is over-expended to date is the diesel fuel account, which provides fuel for the town’s plow trucks. That account currently sits at 136.1 percent. Overtime is currently 75 percent expended, while salt is only at 44.5 percent of budget.
“Despite all this, the public works department has done an excellent job handling this winter’s storms,” Conlogue added.
For the RSU 29, RSU 50 and SAD 70 school districts, snow days are no longer factored into their calendars. Therefore, every time school is cancelled, a day is added on to the end of the school year, meaning students will be attending classes later than usual this year.
RSU 29’s final day of regular classes has been pushed back to Tuesday, June 17, while the final day for teachers will be Wednesday, June 18. Originally, the final day of classes was Friday, June 12. Graduation will remain Thursday, June 5.
RSU 29 Superintendent Mike Hammer said the district is sticking with its date of June 5 for graduation because it is too difficult to change it at this late stage of the game.
Hammer said the district should be in reasonably good financial shape over the final few months of the school year.
“We are right on the edge of our contracted amount for heating costs,” Hammer said. “It’s been a difficult winter for heating for sure.”
SAD 70’s final day of regular classes will now be Monday, June 16, while the final day for teachers is Wednesday, June 18. Originally, the final school day was slated for Thursday, June 11. Hodgdon High School will still have its graduation ceremony on Friday, June 6.
SAD 70 Superintendent Scott Richardson said the district has been working to increase its heating efficiencies over the past year, including the installation of “burner boosters” for its furnances.
“They seem to be paying off in savings to the district in heating costs for both the high school and elementary school buildings,” Richardson said. “We have about 40 percent of our budgeted heating costs left right now so we should be fine in this budget year in total costs.”
SAD 70 did have an unexpected expense of hiring a crew to clear snow off the roofs of the high school, elementary school and superintendent’s building.
“This extra cost is well worth it versus potential damage that could be caused by leaks,” Richardson said.
RSU 50 (Southern Aroostook and Katahdin school systems) SACS graduation ceremony is set for Friday, June 13, while Katahdin’s takes place Saturday, June 14. The final day of student classes is now Wednesday, June 18, while the final staff day is Thursday, June 19.
RSU 50 Superintendent Larry Malone said the district has lost four student days because of the storm cancellations. He added fuel usage is also up due to the adverse weather.