PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The city council approved the school budget election warrants during a noontime meeting Tuesday, May 16, and residents voted to pass them later in the day.
Presque Isle residents voted to authorize the school district’s expenditures for the proposed budget for SAD 1. All of the budget meeting articles passed a town vote, while article 15 to raise and appropriate additional local funds of $3,249,421 passed with a 55-0 written ballot vote from residents attending the school district budget meeting held in the cafeteria of the high school.
“In last year’s [school] budget, we were actually underfunded for health insurance,” said Holly Vining, district business manager. “We were anticipating an increase of about 5 percent and the actual increase came in at 8 percent, so we had to make up for that in the proposed budget and then we had to add the 4.6 percent increase for FY24.”
The requested increase in the school budget boils down to higher costs of salaries and benefits, along with the recent rise in inflation, superintendent Ben Greenlaw said.
Frank Bemis was elected the moderator and presided over the passage of the articles by the city residents. No public comment was made during the school budget meeting.
The 2023-24 budget totals $29.1 million. Salaries are $15,806,742, increased by $583,439 from last year’s $15,223,303. Benefits are at $6,676,724, increased by $605,176 from last year’s $6,071,548.
SAD 1 was doing capital projects using the COVID-19 funding, but that is exhausted and repairs and maintenance are necessary. That budget line is $3,892,243.
Approximately 45 percent of the total city budget is spent toward the SAD 1 school budget. Presque Isle taxes were flat for the last four years with a marginal increase expected in 2024.
“It’s been awesome that the last five years have been flat, but where did we go wrong here?” said city council member Kevin Freeman. “At a 5.6 percent increase [in local taxes], where did it go sideways?”
One agenda item of the next city council meeting will be to approve the outcome of the votes by Presque Isle residents for the proposed school budget, Presque Isle City Manager Martin Puckett said.
“SAD 1 is spending a little over $13,500 per student and that is below the state average by 20 percent,” Freeman said.
Puckett will send an invitation to representatives of the SAD 1 school board to come to the next city council meeting for a presentation.
The SAD 1 budget validation referendum is scheduled for May 31.