Limestone approves town budget, delays school budget vote

12 months ago

LIMESTONE, Maine — Limestone residents passed their town budget Wednesday evening but will reconvene July 6 to vote on the school budget.

More than 80 voters turned out for the two-hour meeting, which likely would have lasted until 10 p.m. had a majority opted to address the school budget, too. But residents agreed to return to Limestone Community School next week for the school vote.

This week’s meeting followed the first attempt at passing the town and school budgets June 14. Residents had suspected that certain proposed figures were inaccurate or misleading and demanded that officials review their budgets again.

One week later, Limestone’s Select Board passed largely the same budgets, with proposed salary and benefits increases for employees and projected cost increases for special education and high school tuition.

Most of the town’s budget passed without discussion.

Parks and Recreation experienced the most drastic cut. After failing to hire a new full-time director, Interim Town Manager Walt Elliot and the Select Board proposed a $106,426 budget, a $44,426 increase from the $62,000 voters approved last year.

That budget included a $41,000 salary for a full-time director, equal to the salary of a new school teacher, said Select Board member Chris Durepo.

Several attempts to vote for the $62,000 figure and then the $106,426 total failed. Voters ultimately approved $62,000, which means any future Parks & Recreation programs will rely on volunteers.

Resident Melissa Warner said she was hesitant to support such a large budget increase due to the small number of programs that Limestone has offered this year.

“To be honest, I pay for my kids to go to Caribou [Parks & Recreation] because we have nothing here,” she said.

Though the volunteer-led recreation committee succeeded in running after-school programs this year, that happened largely because a school employee stepped up as program leader, said Meagan Malena, who serves on both the school and town recreation committees.

Malena appealed to voters to pass the higher budget proposal.

“When we only have volunteers, there’s no one to run programs daily. We all have full-time jobs and kids and were doing the best we could,” Malena said. “We need a director so we don’t have to send our kids to other town [recreation] programs.”

But in the end, most voters did not want to risk increasing the mill rate any more. Elliot had projected that, if passed as originally proposed, the town budget would lead to at least a six-mill rate increase. The current mill rate is 28.

Voters rejected a $12,000 allocation toward a new electronic sign outside the town office on Main Street.

The Select Board and residents agreed to table votes on $1 million bonds for road repairs and a new highway safety building until a special town meeting Sept. 6. The board agreed to do more research on potential grant opportunities.

Voters almost rejected a town contribution of $60,000 toward repairs of Limestone’s school pool, but school leaders said an anonymous donor stepped up to cover most of the repairs.

The donor offered to cover $150,000 of the estimated $180,000 project so long as the town showed interest in keeping the pool open. The school has already put a down payment of $10,000, said Superintendent William Dobbins.

Since $39,677 is left over from last year’s Parks & Recreation budget, that amount will go into the town’s general fund. The Select Board can put those funds toward the pool repairs and reduce the residents’ contribution, Dobbins said.

The pool has been closed since January after officials discovered corroded plumbing. The pool’s liner and plumbing dated back to the 1970s and were beyond repair, and the anonymous donor offered to help give the pool new life.

Several nearby communities, including Caswell, Fort Fairfield and Caribou, often use the pool, not just Limestone students, Dobbins noted. The school is working on an agreement with Caribou Parks & Recreation.

“We would charge Caribou residents but Limestone kids to do any Caribou program for free,” Dobbins said. “There are ways that we can generate revenue [from the pool].”

Other options could include charging other communities who want to lead adult and senior aerobics and swimming classes at Limestone’s pool, Dobbins said.

Next week, town residents will vote on the proposed school budget, which totals $4,756,393 compared to $4,341,088 last year.

Special education is the largest proposed increase, from $351,108 last year to $520,054 this year. Dobbins attributed the increase to more special education students. That means more costs for transporting many students to specialty schools or providing occupational, speech and physical therapy through contracted experts.

Other proposed school cost categories include: regular instruction ($1,753), other instruction ($64,143), student and staff support ($287,858), system administration ($159,987), school administration ($204,502), transportation and buses ($341,827), facilities maintenance ($552,321) and debt service ($871,350).

The budget proposes that the town raise $518,451 to fund the total cost of public education and to set aside an extra $969,052 in local funds.

The next town budget meeting will be held Thursday, July 6, at Limestone Community School’s auditorium at 6:30 p.m.