PARIS — Town officials from the Oxford Hills School District intend to meet with their state legislators, the school superintendent and school directors in January to discuss budget concerns.
The meeting is tentatively set for Jan. 16 at a site to be determined.
“We've got a problem. We've got to do something about it,” Harrison Town Manager George “Bud” Finch told the Sun Journal. Harrison is slated to see an 8.41 percent increase of $300,444 in its school assessment this coming fiscal year.
Finch was one of 10 officials from some of the eight Oxford Hills School District towns who met Thursday evening at the invitation of Paris Board of Selectmen Chairman Sam Elliot to discuss the impact of the proposed school budget on towns.
Chairmen of the Boards of Selectmen and Budget Committees — 16 people in all — from Paris, Norway, Oxford, Otisfield, Harrison, Hebron, West Paris and Waterford were invited to the meeting.
Other town officials, including five School Board members, were also at the meeting in the Paris Fire Station, but walked out when Elliot refused to let them speak.
Finch and others said the budget problem is not just a local issue. It needs to involve all levels of government, he said.
“There's not enough money for towns to do what they need to do,” he said.
He attended the meeting with Selectmen Chairman Bill Winslow and House District 98 Rep. Lisa Villa, both of Harrison.
Many of the officials from Paris, Waterford, Harrison, Otisfield and Hebron said at the meeting Thursday that their local budgets continue to get hit hard with assessments, loss of state funding and other budgetary mandates that have left them helpless to try to keep property taxes down.
Some towns have put off road repairs, others have held off on capital projects and hiring new people as ways to reduce the budget impact on residents.
Otisfield Board of Selectmen Chairman Hal Ferguson, who attended the meeting Thursday night, said Friday that the biggest issue for Otisfield is the impact of the school assessment.
“Last year was the first year in five years we raised the mill rate,” he said. It was a direct result of the local school assessment.
Ferguson said they are helpless to resolve the budget issue at the local level.
“You can do some things in municipal budgeting, like not hiring someone or not buying a firetruck, but when the School Board says how much it is, you have no leeway,” he said.
The 2013-14 projected assessment for Otisfield is a 15.17 percent increase, or an additional $290,125.
Superintendent Rick Colpitts presented a preliminary 2013-14 fiscal year school budget this month that could raise the total assessment for all eight school district towns 10.99 percent on average, or $1,864,089 more than this year. The new fiscal year begins July 1, 2013.
Last year, voters approved a $35.1 million budget with an overall 6.03 percent increase in local assessments.
Oxford Hills School Board Chairman Ron Kugell said unless legislators agree to waive the state's minimum local required share for education spending again this year, taxpayers in the district may have to raise an additional $1.8 million for 2013-14.
Finch said it's important that all officials present a unified message that the problem is being faced by almost all towns and school districts in the state, and it must be resolved at all levels of government.
“The question is very simple. What are we going to do?” he said.