Vassalboro News: Budget workers frustrated over state’s lack of action

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Budget Committee and School Board members trying to work on the 2017-18 school budget are frustrated by the state legislature’s annual inability to decide on state funding.

Additionally, some budget committee members are frustrated by school board members who, they say, made minimal budget reductions between the two groups’ joint meetings March 30 and April 11.

At the March 30 meeting, AOS (Alternative Educational Structure) Superintendent Eric Haley and Finance Director Paula Pooler talked about potential savings in teacher salaries, health insurance and high-school tuition. By April 11, they presented a revised budget that was $137,698 lower than the March 30 draft, with most of the savings in the three areas previously listed. However, under currently estimated state funding the revised budget would still require an increase in local property taxes approaching $388,000, which would raise the tax rate by close to one mil ($1 for each $1,000 of valuation).

Meeting without the school board on April 13, budget committee members advocated another $139,000 be taken from the school budget. They scheduled their next meeting for Tuesday evening, April 25, instead of the previously planned April 18, hoping to give school board members time to react (despite school vacation week).

Factors likely, but not guaranteed, to improve the financial situation include a more generous state subsidy for schools and, Town Manager Mary Sabins said, more state revenue sharing to the town than she currently projects and/or a larger than anticipated increase in property valuation when the assessor finishes his work.

Until at least some of these possibilities are realized, budget committee members made only tentative decisions on endorsing proposed municipal expenditures. In general, they accepted the proposals from Sabins and the board of selectmen, with the following exceptions:

  • Transfer Station Manager George Hamar asked for up to $20,000 for two new roll-off containers (about $7,500 apiece) and a snow-pusher attachment and chains for the backhoe he is acquiring from the Public Works Department. Selectmen approved both; budget committee members recommended $15,000 for the containers only.
  • After talking with Dan Mayotte, chief of Vassalboro’s First Responders, budget committee members on a 4-3 vote recommended $10,000 for the service instead of the $4,900 Sabins and selectmen recommended.
  • Selectmen endorsed the request for up to $35,000 to buy a new police vehicle in 2017-18. The budget committee recommended delaying the purchase.
  • Both boards advise voters to give $5,000 to the China Region Lakes Alliance (which requested $15,000), but selectmen plan to use money from taxes and the budget committee recommends appropriating it from the alewife fund (money from the sale of alewives caught at Webber Pond dam each spring).

Both boards agreed to recommend a $500 donation to Waterville Area Literacy Volunteers, the selectmen on a 2-1 vote. Selectmen have not had a chance to react to budget committee members’ recommendations on expenditures on which the two boards disagree. The next selectmen’s meeting is at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 20, in the town office meeting room.

Vassalboro’s annual town meeting is scheduled for Monday evening, June 5. Budget committee members discussed postponing it to the end of June to get firm state figures on which to base local decisions; Sabins pointed out legal requirements surrounding the annual meeting and the school budget validation vote that made postponement too difficult to be seriously considered. Local elections will be held June 13 in conjunction with the state election day. Nomination papers for positions on the board of selectmen, school board and sanitary district board are available at the town office.

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