AUBURN — Voters on Tuesday rejected the proposed school budget by more than a 3-2 ratio, sending the message that the proposed 6.9 percent increase was too much.
Unofficial returns show the vote was 1,625 to 1,036 to reject the $38.37 million budget, said City Clerk Susan Clements-Dallaire.
The voter turnout was 16 percent, Clements-Dallaire said, a far cry from last year when it was less than 5 percent. Only 694 people voted and the budget passed by 5 votes.
The rejection means there will have to be another school budget referendum.
Auburn School Superintendent Katy Grondin said the School Committee would work on another budget as soon as 6 p.m. Wednesday night in a workshop session.
"The School Committee and School Department will continue to work together to provide the best education for our children within a budget that citizens can support," Grondin said.
Grondin said Tuesday night she wasn't sure when the next vote would take place.
Taxpayer advocate and former City Councilor Ron Potvin said he was not surprised by the vote. He expected even more of a turnout. He called the no vote "tremendous," and said his group owes the School Department "a world of gratitude" because taxpayers are now unified.
His group, made up of five former city councilors who worked for less spending, will now strategize for the next referendum. Initially, he wanted a budget with a 1.7 percent increase but now is calling for no increase. "Because in the next three years we'll have to make up $2 million more" with the state calling for districts including Auburn to make minimum state spending levels or lose state aid.
If the school budget was passed as proposed Tuesday, it would have increased property taxes by $128 per year on a home valued at $150,000. That's not including property tax increases from the municipal side and changes in state policy, such as Gov. Paul LePage's calls to eliminate revenue-sharing and the Homestead Exemption tax break.
Voters who supported the Auburn school budget said Tuesday it was important to support education.
"I voted for the budget," said Jodd Bowles. "It still doesn't meet the (state funding level) so we're going to lose twice as much (in state aid) if we don't get the budget in line. We should be funding things. One of the School Committee members said this is a sprained ankle now or take a hammer and break both of them next year."
Donna and Mark Mogul both voted yes. “I have a 6-year-old niece and I really look forward to her having a good education,” she said. “I voted yes also because I like to see the very best education for Auburn,” he said.
Those who voted no said the budget was asking too much of taxpayers.
“I can't see in this time increasing budgets," said Frank Phillips. "I can't afford to increase my budget. Taxes are going to cost me more money.”
Marcel Larose said he voted no because he pays $100 a week in property taxes now. “I'm retired, living on a fixed income. I'm trying to run a small business here. Taxes are just out of hand. I've lived in the same house for 57 years. I bought my father's house. I just can't afford to live in the city anymore. It's terrible you're going to have to leave your own community because you can't afford it.”
In Question 2 on the ballot voters were asked whether they wanted the budget validation referendum to continue in future years. They said yes, 2,002 to 635.