Woodland residents approve town and school budgets at the annual meeting

10 months ago

WOODLAND, Maine – After a four-month delay, Woodland residents approved increased budgets for both the town and local school district.

Sixty-eight registered voters attended the annual town meeting held in the Woodland Consolidated School gymnasium Tuesday night. Though most town budget articles passed as presented, the Select Board faced questions on what has led to increased costs, especially for Public Works.

Voters approved a $754,750 Public Works budget, an increase from $491,250 last year, after officials explained the cost breakdown. 

Though the Maine Department of Transportation covered $120,000 for applying new hot-top to the Morse Road this year, the town still paid $50,000 for the DOT to put another light layer on that same road.

“The $50,000 came out of the highway department budget, which we discussed at our last meeting,” Select Board member Thomas Drew said. “We would have used our own paver and roller but the DOT told us just how bad that road was. We had to act quickly or else lose the DOT money.”

Residents also questioned the increase from $50,000 to $80,000 to purchase road salt and sand. Drew said that the town has begun purchasing salt and sand for next winter due to increased storms that involve sleet and freezing rain.

Woodland Select Board member Thomas Drew (left) reviews budget warrant articles with Town Administrator Vicki Page (middle) and Town Clerk Bridget Coats. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

The increase in road maintenance from $150,000 to $200,000 reflects increased equipment repair costs, he said.

“We had a truck in the shop and $8,000 of repairs turned into nearly $40,000,” Drew said. “Our dump truck was another $45,000.”

The town budget’s other major increases are as follows: general government, from $193,600 to $220,230; insurances, retirement and liabilities, from $92,200 to $99,169; solid waste disposal, from $60,000 to $68,000; and Aroostook County tax payment, from $98,900 to $108,296.

Residents approved placing $10,000 in both the highway equipment reserve and building repair reserve accounts, $5,000 to the assessment reserve account and $25,000 to a Planning Board reserve account. They also authorized the Select Board to transfer any future unexpended account balances to the road maintenance reserves.

Social Services was the only town expense that residents voted to cut. The Select Board was proposing $6,770 compared with $4,985 in 2022. Residents voted to decrease the proposed total to last year’s amount. They did not specify which categories they wanted to see individually decreased.

The social services proposal included the town’s General Assistance program ($1,500) and contributions to the following local nonprofits: Aroostook County Action Program ($485), American Red Cross ($350), Aroostook Agency on Aging ($150), Caribou Emergency Management ($200), Catholic Charities of Maine ($100), Central Aroostook Soil & Water Conservation District ($250), Healthy Families Aroostook ($100), Maine Veterans Cemetery ($100), the Sister Mary O’Donnell Homeless Shelter ($2,305), Woodland Cemetery Association ($280), Woodland Historical Society ($700) and Woodland Ski Trail ($250).

“This is a significant increase and most of these organizations receive federal or state grant monies already,” said Woodland resident Lorraine Chamberlain. “If we don’t look at our costs, we’re never going to afford that as a community.”

This year’s school budget for Union 122, which serves students from Woodland, New Sweden and Westmanland, passed mostly without discussion. The total budget is $2,748,286 compared with $2,494,471 in 2022.

The budget increases are as follows: regular instruction, from $1,370,300 to $1,516,502; special education, from $287,986 to $330,215; other instruction, from $41,300 to $50,050; student and staff support, from $139,545 to $175,965; system administration, from $119,472 to $122,231; school administration, from $142,180 to $145,607; and facilities maintenance, from $235,303 to $272,066.

Transportation and Buses will decrease from $144,435 to $124,589 while debt service and other commitments will remain at $11,059.

Union 122 will receive $1,921,469 in state education funds, an increase from $1,738,147 in 2022. Voters agreed to raise $455,383 in local funds, increased from $439,016 last year, and an additional $221,987 in local funds, decreased from $231,987 last year.

School committee member Rob Butler said that despite the increases, the school has made long-term investments, including a new roof, classroom windows, alarm system, school zone signs for the driveways and three new boilers that have helped keep costs down.

“We’re only asking for a 1 percent increase in the town’s contribution,” Butler said. “When you look at the rate of inflation over the last few years, that’s a fair ask.”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated where the town and DOT added new hot-top. It was Morse Road.