NEWRY — Voters will go to the polls June 13 to decide whether they want to end the school withdrawal process, which is intended to lead to a vote on whether to leave SAD 44.
The referendum vote was prompted by a petition submitted to selectmen earlier this month by former Selectman Steve Wight.
Negotiations with SAD 44 on a withdrawal agreement are at a stalemate. The last proposal from the Newry Withdrawal Committee would have had the town continue to pay toward the SAD 44 budget over the 10 years following withdrawal, at a decreasing rate, to spread out the financial impact.
A public hearing on the June 13 vote had yet to be scheduled.
In related issues, public hearings on LD 1080 and LD 1336 are scheduled for April 26 at the State House before the Legislature’s Education Committee. LD 1080, if passed by the Legislature, would prohibit Newry from withdrawing from SAD 44. It is sponsored by Rep. Fran Head, R-Bethel, out of concern that the other district towns would suffer severe economic impacts if Newry withdrew. Newry selectmen oppose it, while Bethel, Greenwood and Woodstock selectmen support it.
At a Newry selectmen meeting Tuesday, resident Bob Lowell, a member of the Bethel Area Business Association, said that group does not support LD 1080.
At a Bethel selectmen meeting last week, a chart prepared by SAD 44 lawyers was presented depicting the projected school tax impact if Newry withdrew and the entire impact took place in the year the withdrawal took effect, rather than over the 10 years proposed by Newry. In most school withdrawals, the full impact happens in one year.
Regarding LD 1080 and the hearings, Head said Monday, “The (legislative) committee will consider the need to prevent a significant tax shift to other towns, the uniqueness of our ski-influenced economy, and the agreement between the towns to form the district years ago. I look forward to advocating for a conclusion to this matter, so that we can all put an end to the withdrawal conflict and move on as a district.”
The April 26 hearing on LD 1080 in Augusta starts at 9 a.m.; the LD 1336 hearing begins at 1 p.m. Written testimony may also be submitted. For more information on the bills go to http://legislature.maine.gov/legis/bills/display_ps.asp?LD=1080&snum=128 and http://legislature.maine.gov/legis/bills/display_ps.asp?PID=0&snum=128&p….
The Newry selectmen also discussed on Tuesday research done by Town Office staff regarding the proportions of real estate taxes in SAD 44 towns paid by residents.
With the many second homes in Newry, only about 10 percent of the taxes are paid by residents, a fact cited by officials in other SAD 44 towns in making a case that Newry residents do not pay disproportionately toward the school budget. The remaining Newry taxes are paid mostly by second home owners, while some come from commercial real estate.
But at a joint meeting last week of selectmen and the Newry Withdrawal Committee, officials said they believed the other towns also have a significant portion of their real estate taxes paid by nonresidents.
On Tuesday Town Administrator Amy Bernard said she and her staff have checked with Greenwood, Woodstock and Bethel officials, or on the town websites. They found that 24 percent of Greenwood real estate taxes are paid by Greenwood residents; 32 percent of Woodstock taxes are paid by residents of that town; and 50 percent of Bethel taxes are paid by residents.
Bernard also said she has heard from some second-home taxpayers in Newry who “don’t feel their voice is being heard” on the Newry withdrawal/taxes issue.
In other business Tuesday, Newry selectmen continued work on the municipal budget for fiscal year 2018. It will be considered at town meeting May 9. The board will wrap up work on the budget April 25 at 5 p.m.