JAY — Regional School Unit 73 Superintendent Kenneth Healey told selectpersons Monday night that with 300 jobs eliminated at Verso paper mill this month, the budget for 2016-17 is going to come down to what services the community can live without.

Healey spoke at a joint meeting of selectpersons and the town’s six school directors before the budget process begins.

The layoffs are on top of the mill’s valuation decreasing for the 2013 and 2014 tax years. Verso and Jay are still at loggerheads over the mill’s valuation for those tax years. The cases are waiting to be heard at the state level.

As the mill’s valuation and taxes decrease, the other taxpayers in town, in RSU 73 and Franklin County will see taxes increase, Town Manager Shiloh LaFreniere said.

Verso also announced in November that it may file for bankruptcy protection and it may possibly sell its Jay mill along with other mills to balance its books.

When selectpersons and RSU 73 directors go into budget talks, generally speaking “neither of us knows where the other side stands,“ LaFreniere said.

Healey said he and administrators are in the beginning stage of putting a budget together but are cognizant of the financial dilemma the towns face, especially the town of Jay. He said he is hoping to have cuts to the RSU 73 budget through staff attrition, without damaging education for students.

Last year, there were 12 retirements that enabled the budget to be cut by $250,000, he said.

Board of Selectpersons Chairman Justin Merrill said when Verso announced the layoffs in August, “We knew as a town something was going to happen.” The board began looking for ways to cut the budget and not affect services, he said.

One move was to contract for curbside trash and recyclables collection, which saved the town $130,000 but eliminated jobs, he said.

So far, Verso is up to date on paying its taxes, LaFreniere said.

If something happens and the mill closes, taxes will double, Selectperson Tom Goding said. 

“We are looking at everything. There is nothing easy about it,” he said. 
“We are trying to be proactive.”

If Jay’s valuation goes down, it changes the ratio of what the towns of Livermore and Livermore Falls pays for the school budget assessment, RSU 73 Director Michael Schaedler said. 

When a town’s valuation changes, it takes three years for it to show up in school funding formulas, LaFreniere said. Town representatives spent time at the Legislature this year to see if the town’s lower valuation could be recognized sooner. The bill did not go through but was carried over to next year.

If the town’s valuation is decreased, Livermore and Livermore Falls would see an increase in the share of tax assessment for amounts over the state’s school funding formula of essential programs and services, she said. County towns would also see an increase in taxes with the decrease of Jay’s valuation she said.

They are trying to communicate with townspeople to find out what they want the town to look like, she said. What services do they need and what can they do without, she said.

One of the good things is RSU 73 has the ability with retirements to make some cuts for communities, Healey said. There are also opportunities to make reductions that will not necessary affect the working staff or the education to students, he said.

In the end it is going to come down to what can the community live without for services, even though they enhance education, Healey said.

Budget decisions will have to be based on education as the No. 1 priority, he said.

RSU 73 Director Amy McDaniel asked if there is a way to entice businesses to come to town.

Town representatives have been working on it and have also has been working on sharing services with other towns, LaFreniere said.

Getting community support for anything is difficult, she said.

“The reality is we can’t sustain everything we already have,” RSU 73 director Shari Ouellette said.

Selectpersons are being proactive to market the town by attending a variety of meetings, Merrill said, and are working on collaboration with other towns.

It is not all gloom and doom, Selectperson Tim DeMillo said. New businesses are opening up in Jay, he said.
The town has made several cuts, including staff during the past several years, he said.

McDaniels said maybe the school board will have to look at areas they haven’t looked at before to reduce the budget.

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