Auburn voters reject school budget

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.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Rich Leavitt, right, hands Norm Smith a ballot as Gerry Lachapelle, left, checks in another voter at Auburn City Hall on Tuesday morning. Voter turnout was strong as residents went to the polls to decide Auburn's school budget.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

William Leighton Jr. votes on the Auburn school budget Tuesday morning.

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.

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Jason Theriault's picture

Gonna have to take a rain ticket.

Sorry, I just can't get worked up over this. It was premature to try and pass a budget before we see how much the state is going to contribute.

And I have to save up my hate for the Blackhawks, so I'm going to have to take a raincheck on this issue

Correction, no one MAIN

Correction, no one MAIN decider.

Jason Theriault, there are no

Jason Theriault, there are no MAIN deciders. Everything weighs into the equation.

Chuck Lafean states, " If we

Chuck Lafean states, " If we don't invest in making Auburn more attractive to business and new residents, your tax rate will continue to go up and your property value will continue to go down."

Chuck, when relocating, the school system plays a small part for a small percentage of people when making the decision. The main deciders are taxes, entertainment, proximity to services, crime, home prices, etc...

As far as businesses relocating here. None will with high taxes and the fact that the peoples pockets are empty. If the people do not have money to spend, why would a business relocate here? In order to expand the tax base, you need to make sure people have money to spend. The tax and spend mentality DOES NOT work!

Also, Grondin makes 110 grand a year and this budget gives her a 5 grand raise. Why?

Jason Theriault's picture


Business go where there are low taxes and workers.

The main deciders of buying a house are price. Everything else is secondary.

Noel Foss's picture

That depends.

When I bought my place, the biggest deciding factor was location. I'd had my fill of hour-commutes to work, and wanted something closer but I didn't want to live in town. Then it was price, and then I looked at tax rates. I rejected a couple of houses on the outskirts of Auburn, despite their having everything else I wanted, because I didn't want to be paying $3k in property taxes every year.
I know it's not the same for everybody, but all other things being equal, I'm going to opt for the town with the lower property tax rate.


Ask a realtor

I am not an expert on why people make decisions to buy a house. But we, I say we but my whipsmart wife did all the research, looked at a lot of factors and schools were at the top of the list, then we saw a house and watched the price go down until it was in our range before making an offer.

Ask a realtor why people buy houses and you'll get 1,000 reasons, so making broad generalizations isn't a great idea.

Jason Theriault's picture

You said it

then we saw a house and watched the price go down until it was in our range before making an offer.

So, your saying that you were not going to make an offer until the price was within your price range. Everything else(lets call them "secondary factors") was what you wanted, but until the price(lets just call that the "primary factor") was withing your range, you were not going to buy it.

I generally dislike generalizations, but in this case, I think I'm pretty safe. People are not going to buy a house they can't get a loan for or for a house they think is overpriced. So I think that price is the primary factor.


A pattern of dropping prices...

There was already a plan to make an offer on the house regardless of the lowering of the price, but as the price dropped repeatedly over the course of a month and a half we waited a couple weeks to see if the trend would continue.

The offer was not contingent on a lower price, the offer was contingent on the school being good, the house being solid and the neighborhood being safe. The lower price was a nice bonus.

What would you do if you saw the price on a house you were going to make an offer drop 3 times over 6 weeks?


The better turnout is nice, short sighted on vision for future.

A ten percent increase over the pitiful turnout of 2012, especially on a rainy day was really a great improvement. If kudos are due to Auburn it is to the voters who committed to coming to the polls and exercising their rights. The downside is that everything else about how this referendum was handled gets low grades.

Those on the side of keeping tax growth fail because they don't bring ideas, only anti-tax rhetoric designed to scare people on on fixed incomes into coming out to vote "no" at all cost.

Those on the side of raising the tax present so many reasons for the hike that the message and thus their strategy got cobbled from the start.

Committee members took a potentially greedy gamble, that may now, unfortunately backfire twice because voters have been empowered by the "no" vote and the follow-up message that we need to have zero increase, which doesn't help anyone in the long run. Especially our children and the people who work so hard every day to teach them.

Is it possible for "no" vote leaders like Mr. Potvin and other members of the community to present ideas rather than rhetoric that will move us closer to a solution.

And is it possible for the School Committee to find ways to tighten up our budgets, like we all have had to in the last few years, to make more with less.

My children are having one of the most positive and fulfilling educational experiences at the Park Avenue Elementary School that I could have hoped for l (THANK YOU PARK AVE) and piling on more money may not be the answer, but not adding anything to the coffers in these times where everything costs more each and every day is not the solution either.

Lets look for bigger solutions together rather than making rash decisions that will hurt our children in the ling run.


Sorry for the typos - MK

As a copywriter it's important for me to have it right, so sorry about the double "on" in paragraph 2 and I am not sure what the "ling run" is, that should have been the "long run."

Jason Theriault's picture

Not surprised

When I heard there was strong turnout in the morning, I knew that the senior vote was going to be high, and seniors arn't going to vote for property tax increases.

That said, we'll probably see them wait until the budget passes(which wont have LePage's cuts in it) so that they will less of a tax hike.

Democracy in our Republic has failed when 16% = "strong turnout"

In the end ... have we all no shame ?

Jason Theriault's picture

For a budget? Yes

For a budget vote? Yeah, it was a strong turnout.

Sun Journal out of touch with Auburn !

Soundly DEFEATED Auburn school budget was endorsed by the Sun Journal.
Most newspapers in the U.S. have steadily lost in readership, circulation, ad revenues ... and RELEVANCE ... over the last decade for good reason.
Average income in Maine - $27,000
Average income in Auburn - $20,000.
Average income of Sun Journal editorial board ... WAY MORE THAN $20,000 !
Liberal spending is part of a liberal mindset ... let alone of liberal ideology. Conserving every precious and hard to come by dollar and spending as little as often as possible is instinctive to those who earn and have little money.
Conserve ... conservative spending versus liberal spending.
Liberal ideology in local media promotes and supports government spending that the people ... taxpayers ... CANNOT AFFORD.
I challenge the Sun Journal's Editorial Board to publish their annual incomes and the value to each of them of any benefit and retirement package in a report of Maine and Auburn incomes that uses specifics numbers.
People already have lives ... the majority need to be able to AFFORD to live their lives in Auburn.
The voters of Auburn just REJECTED your Editorial Board's opinion. Got it ?
Sun Journal ... get relevant and get in touch !

Zack Lenhert's picture

...yet here you are, on an

...yet here you are, on an "irrelevant" newspaper's website, citing information from said "irrelevant" newspaper.

Of course I'm here ... and know I'm mostly irrelevant !

Out of 1.3 million in Maine, there are over 984,000+ registered voters in Maine. Out of these, there are bound to be some of the 31,000+ people (3.1%) who see the Sun Journal, who read the liberal tax and spend propaganda, who believe the propaganda, who live in Auburn, and who might then vote in Auburn based upon the propaganda and thus keep adversely affecting Auburn, our county and our state.
I don't need or expect to reach and help all 31,000 who see the Journal or even all those who read it. Remember, there were 600 "more" yesterday in Auburn who were willing to ignore the Sun Journal Editorial Board's tax and spend propaganda and to win the day in the critically serious fights for affordable and sane spending.
I know I can't help everyone or even many. I'm just hoping I might help one or two. Maybe I can even help a handful who can do grade school math and who have not been indoctrinated past the point of actually questioning, "Will tax, spend, and debt ever finally actually work?". I realize it's idealistic of me and mostly hopeless but one can try occasionally.
If I'm wrong in trying, I'm totally comfortable knowing my efforts here are totally irrelevant.

 's picture

Your Logic is Wrong

Where are you getting your numbers from? I can't find anything that is even close to the $27K/20K numbers you are using.

BTW, your logic is all wrong. If we don't invest in making Auburn more attractive to business and new residents, your tax rate will continue to go up and your property value will continue to go down.

And, the editorial dealt with a state number, not one invented by some liberal spending mindset of the local school board; the EPS is a number coming from the Education Department of Governor LePage (whom some might call conservative)!

Numbers - Logic - EPS number

Numbers :
- "nearly $20,000" was the number the Sun Journal Editorial Board used in their June 9 "Facts Show ... " opinion piece to which I responded
... Can we not all rely on the Sun Journal to be factual ?

- $27,915 (2011 dollars) comes forn the U.S. Census
... Can we not all rely on the U.S. Government to be factual ?

Logic :
Respect your opinion regarding my logic.
My logic tells me that the reason the population of Maine continues shrink and the average age (now the oldest in U.S.) continues to grow is the lack of opportunities for good jobs and business growth for most young Mainers, let alone for most Mainers. So people vote with their feet and ... leave Maine.
Our neighbors moved their family of six back to Maine and based their national business back in Maine three years ago from California. They are leaving for Texas within the next couple months for lower taxes (residential, income, and business), for much better schools for their children, for business opportunities to allow them to work and to pay their bills, and for future opportunities for their children ... none of which Maine offers them. They love Maine but hate the high tax and weak business climate. They have reluctantly chosen to move while they still have enough money left so they can afford to make this very expensive change.
An 82 year old friend had to sell the house in which she raised her family and has moved out of Maine because she could not longer afford the ever rising Auburn taxes on her home and the other expenses Maine imposes that she could escape by, very reluctantly, moving away.

Real money is required to "invest: in anything. Auburn already has access to the less and less money in the ... year after year thinner wallets ... of residents and business owners in Auburn. Auburn can access more of this ever dwindling amount of money UNTIL enough voters rebel and say ... NO. Enough Auburn voters rebelled and said NO yesterday, June 11, 2013.
Rebellion over taxes is an "old American custom". Goes back to July 4, 1776 and even before that to the Pine Tree Riot of 1772.
Logic tells me that extremely few Mainers and extremely few in Auburn have seen their incomes grow 6.9% over the entire last five years, let alone in the past year. How many people living in Auburn have received COLA raises in the last 4 years ?
No one I know in the private sector. Certainly not state employees. Certainly not people on Social Security. Certainly not people in our armed forces. Logic tells me that this leaves darn few. How many Auburn businesses have seen their gross revenues grow 6.9% in the past year. A mere handful I know. How many Auburn businesses have seen their profits grow 6.9% in the past year. None that l know. Simple logic dictates that taxes are paid either with profits or with more debt from borrowed money. Auburn has higher municipal and school taxes than most communities within a half hour drive. Logic says that most people looking for a house or a location for a business will not move to a higher tax community. Still higher taxes, logically, will make that problem even worse ... not better. Higher taxes and fewer buyers usually to not increase property values.

Governor King, the silvered socialist "Independent" ... liberal ... who couldn't have won a DEM primary, signed into law EPS that Baldacci and LePage and all others have to put up with ever since 1997. Auburn and all the communities of Maine have the 19 DEMs ... liberal ... majority in the State Senate and the 81 DEMs ... liberal ... majority in the State House in 1997 to thank for EPS ... not LePage or any in his administration. LePage arrived in 2010, almost half a generation after the ... liberal spending ... DEMs made EPS state law in the spring of 1997, when the Maine Legislature ... liberal ... DEMs majorities passed LD1137.
With the passage of LD1137, the Essential Programs and Services (EPS) committee was reconstituted and resumed its work in July 1997. LD1137, Section 10-1, stated in part:
"Beginning July, 1997 the State Board of Education shall develop for the Legislature an implementation plan for funding essential programs and services. The plan must be based on the criteria for student learning developed by the Task Force on Learning Results and established in Public Law 1995, Chapter 649 and in rules adopted by the board and the Department of Education. The plan must include establishment of a system to measure and ensure that schools are held accountable for student Learning Results."

 's picture

Don't trust 'em

I can't argue with your facts and your logic in as much as it doesn't address a go forward plan. Having said that, no, I do "not rely on the U.S. Government to be factual?" In fact, because the government, especially anything related to the Federal Government, I don't believe it. Especially numbers, they are far too easy to manipulate.

Don't trust 'em ... INDEED !

Go forward plan. A much smaller and better value for dollar "Auburn schools administration" with all spending controlled first by hard reality and then by lean management of what little hard reality allows.
Less than inflation increase in school budgets retroactive at least two years.
NEED and DESERVE are the two most dangerous words used to guide SPENDING by any level of our governments.
AFFORD from the start and AFFORD till the end are the two words that should be used to guide all SPENDING by any level of our governments ... including Auburn schools.
Welcome INDEED to the don't trust government to be factual club !
Some don't trust the Federal government to be factual and with just cause, especially when it comes to any spending numbers..
Lots don't trust Auburn government to be factual, especially when it comes to any spending numbers.
61% of the voters yesterday in Auburn did not trust Auburn government when it comes to school spending numbers.
In elections, 52% is a solid win. Anything over 55% is a landslide.
Auburn's school administration was buried by yesterday's huge landslide.

 's picture

Who the Heck is Pete?

Arthur I am a founding and card carrying member of the Cynic Party. And while I don't trust anyone in state or federal levels of government, I have maintained a modicum of trust at the local level. Up until last year that distrust was aimed squarely at the school department. After being involved in the school department for the last year at the Administration level and working very closely with the school committee, that opinion changed. There is this attitude in Auburn that everything wrong with out city is the fault of our school department; that is patently false. There is an attitude that the increase in our taxes is solely due to the schools; that is completely erroneous. Both of these attitudes have been cultivated by our current city council. So, my distrust is now squarely aimed at the municipal side government. We are prohibited by charter to attempt to get the city budget on a ballot, and I for one think that is by design (obviously, duh!) so that they can keep playing "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" when it comes to their budget. So as frustrated you feel with the school department, I feel toward the municipal gov't.. But, there is a solution to all of this. This is America for Pete's sake, we can do anything (BTW, who the heck is Pete?) We just have to keep talking, and elect leaders who understand what leadership is and find those solutions.

 's picture

No I am Not going to run, I know you all want me too.

An no, I know you all want me to run for office, but that isn't going to happen.

Jason Theriault's picture


A few corrections, because your numbers are wrong:
10% rejected the Auburn budget(2/3rds of 16%)

Per Capita income for Auburn:$25,279
Per Capita income for Maine: $26,195

BTW - Sun Journal Staff - Whats the penalties for not meeting the EPS funding levels?


Per your numbers, 66.6 % of voters REJECTED the school budget.
People who voted are voters. Non voters are not counted in legal elections.

In fact the real number was ...

61 % of voters REJECTED the school budget yesterday.

Jason Theriault's picture

One correction

I said 2/3rds voted for, when it it was 3/5ths(3 out of 2). That said, I still think the point that only like 10% of the city voted to reject the budget.

Those who don't vote don't count - figuratively and literally

61% of those who cared enough to vote one way or another ... against or for ... the school budget, voted to REJECT the school budget.
What the 84% who did not care enough to vote wanted matters no more than what the 95% wanted who did not care enough to vote in 2012.

Sun Journal & U.S. Census thank you !

Almost $20,000 for Auburn was what the Sun Journal Editorial Board published in their opinion piece on June 9.
$27,915 is what the U.S. Census data shows for Maine in 2011 dollars.

Jason Reblin's picture

Question about the $20,000

I am trying to understand this number, because it seems really low. I checked Wikipedia and saw $19,942 for the "per capita income" of Auburn. I think that's where the number came from originally - census data. That means that if there are a lot of welfare recipients, retired, or unemployed people, the "per capita income" number goes way down.
So my question is: What is the average income of a "home owner" in Auburn? They are the ones paying property taxes - not apartment dwellers, etc. I suspect the average income of a home owner is much higher than $20k.

I agree with you that taxes are too high in Auburn. It's a shame that in tough economic times we are forced to make decisions that potentially hurt our kids and senior citizens. It's also a shame that when citizens discuss these things, they include ideas from extreme political stances that really don't help the situation - and I am talking about ALL sides of the political spectrum (yes there are more than 2). In reality, things are rarely black or white - especially when those things concern society and the economy. We should be looking for a solution that is best for AUBURN, not what is best for conservatives or for liberals, or something someone said that works for somewhere else. If the citizens of Auburn don't start working together for REAL solutions, in all arenas - education, government, and business, they stand to lose big time. My heart goes out to the citizens of Auburn.


its about time!

our school admins have raped taxpayers for the last few years by threat of loss in education then rebound with such nonsense as whack - a - ipod when many of us cant even afford one ourselves we are forced to buy one for children who are at an age where tantrums are common duh! who thought that one up?? and the books I had in school were years old not yearly. cost must be handled properly there is no reason why a concrete sign changes the child's education level over a fancy expensive LCD sign, or larger teacher conference areas and just look at the amenities offered to teachers and staff of proposed new school buildings where cost is no object (of course not it's not theirs).

Jason Theriault's picture

A few things

1. Capital letters are your friend
2. The iPads are a good investment. The first year, they conducted a study that showed that the iPads were very effective in improving performance in key areas.
3. Which school has a fancy LCD sign? Or some large, fancy conference area?

 's picture

"Raped"? Really? Raped. You

"Raped"? Really? Raped. You need to rethink the way you think about this, and find a better word, too.

During the last 10 years the City's contribution to the School's budget has been virtually flat, while the Municipal side of the budget has continued to increase. Your tax increases, assuming you pay property taxes, are coming from the Municipal side of the coin. As they will again this year. Just wait until you get a load of the Municipal side tax increases this year.


MARK GRAVEL's picture

Kudos Auburn!

Kudos Auburn!


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