Tax bills will be late in Sabattus.

Selectmen had hoped to set the new mill rate Tuesday night, but hopes sank after voters rejected the school budget a second time last week.

Instead, they asked the town manager to look for additional municipal cuts and opted to wait and see.

“We’re going to wait until (Regional School Unit 4) presents a new, presumably lower budget to the regional meeting, but we don’t know when that’s going to be,” Town Manager Andrew Gilmore said. “It’s quite possible the budget validation vote for the school may not take place until school starts. They have until the last week of August. It definitely throws everything up into the air.”

It’s not a hold-up for RSU 4 neighbors Litchfield and Wales; both traditionally set their tax rates in September.

“If it goes through this next time, we’ll be good,” Wales Treasurer Sharon Siegel said.

The school board will meet next Wednesday to take up Round 3 of the 2013-14 budget and could set a new preliminary budget that night.

After last week’s defeat, Superintendent Jim Hodgkin said cutting all extracurricular activities, including sports, could be an option to lower the $17.69 million budget.

Trudy Lamoreau, acting town manager in Litchfield, said she’s heard from residents who were upset at sports being targeted.

“Parents coming in have said some of that, that’s what keeps kids in school, as incentive,” Lamoreau said. “They really don’t want to see all sports removed. I used to be on the school board for 19 years and I agree 100 percent.”

The school budget has to pass by a majority vote, after combining results in all three towns, to win approval. Litchfield has twice passed the budget. Turnout there has been low: 155 people last week out of 2,700 voters.

Siegel noticed the same issue in Wales: 93 voters cast ballots last week in a town of 1,260. The vote split 43 in favor, 50 against.

“Nobody’s happy about the idea of having to cut anything,” she said. “I can tell you why it didn’t pass: because nobody came out and voted. I can tell you just from working the polls that I saw very few parents. I did, however, see someone drag their 90-year-old mother to the polls who could barely walk and a lady who I haven’t seen come to the polls for years, who usually votes absentee.”

In Sabattus, where residents have twice rejected the budget, 179 of 3,800 voters came out for the second referendum. That town also asked everyone who voted if they’d like to see the school budget higher or lower. Ten people said higher; 115 lower.

“That’s compelling, there’s no other way to interpret it,” Gilmore said.

One “lightning-rod issue” brought to him: The proposal to give all students in grades K-12 laptops and iPads. RSU 4 would be one of the first districts in Maine to make that move.

“There’s strong feeling that K-3 is way too young to put screens in their hands,” he said.

Some residents have called the threat to cut sports “a red herring.”

“The folks who are saying, ‘We’ll just cut sports,’ are doing so hedging their bet that people will be upset about that and approve their budget,” Gilmore said. “These are the comments I hear: ‘They’ve done this before; we’ve heard this before.'”

Had the last proposed budget passed, it would have increased Sabattus’ mill rate by $1.29 per $1,000 of property value and would have been close to a $2 increase after including the new municipal budget. Selectmen have asked Gilmore to come back with proposed municipal cuts on Aug. 6. There’s still time to trim figures until selectmen commit the tax rate.

The town warrant says taxes have to be set by Sept. 3. Gilmore hopes numbers are firm in advance of that.

“The major revenue source for any municipal government is local property tax,” he said. “The longer we wait to commit the taxes, we wait longer to mail tax bills and we’ll soon experience significant cash-flow issues. What we don’t want to do is have to go out and borrow money to make payroll and normal operating capital while we’re waiting to commit the taxes.”

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