Jim and Jennifer Dumas vote at the Longley Elementary School on Tuesday afternoon.

LEWISTON — As of late afternoon Tuesday, voter turnout was light for the 2017-18 school budget.

There were mixed reviews on the $74.3 million spending plan, which is 5.5 million more than this fiscal year that ends June 30.

Robert Smith voted no. “I thought it was a little high. I think they can do a little better. I just want them to look at it hard again.”

Smith works on oil furnace boilers. “I see a lot of old people with my job. A lot of them can’t afford taxes that keep going up.”

Genevieve Lyson voted yes. “The School Committee and City Council have done hard work to consider the city’s resources. Our schools are the place we should invest a lot of our resources as a state and city. Kids are our future, and setting them up for success impacts the whole community.”

A question on whether the budget was too high, too low or just right, Lyson said the budget wasn’t enough.

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Her cousin works at Longley Elementary School, her partner is a teacher. “I see what public school teachers go through in terms of struggles with resources, coming home with bags of things they had to purchase with their own money,” Lyson said.

Senior citizen Nancy Gallant said she voted yes. “They need a lot of money to keep it going with the increasing population and more kids,” she said.

Mike Burch and Victoria Forbis said they both voted no.

“I’m not in favor of the budget going up,” Burch said. “We the taxpayers always end up paying. It’s not the renters, it’s the landlords and the homeowners. Most of the people voting for the school budgets are the ones living in apartments who have all the kids.”

Mike Moreau also voted no. The school budget was too high, he said. “Hopefully it will be given back to the voters for a second opportunity” with reduced spending.

Christine Adler voted for the budget. A former school board member in another community, she said working on the school budget is “tough work, trying to meet the needs and be cognizant of the financial burden it puts on families. Ultimately they did a good job,” she said.

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Balloting averaged 58 voters an hour. For a school budget vote which always gets light turnout, “that’s pretty good,” City Clerk Kathy Montejo said.

She expected a little more than 700 people will vote by the time polls close at 8 p.m., which would be about the same number as last year.

Top reasons for the higher budget include more teachers for more students coming to Lewiston schools, 3 percent pay raises for staff, higher health insurance costs and continuing after-school and summer programs to help students catch up to grade level.

The impact on property taxes for a home valued at $150,000 will range between $1.50 less to $46.50 more, depending on how much more money for education is in the state budget, which won’t be approved until June. Experts do expect state lawmakers will provide more money.

Morning fire alarm interrupts voting

Voting on the school budget was suspended for 20 minutes Tuesday after a student at Longley Elementary School pulled a fire alarm, City Clerk Kathy said.

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“It took me five seconds to comprehend what it was,” she said. “I probably did not say some good things” as she realized the alarm would mean the building would have to be evacuated.

Luckily only one voter was in a booth but she had just filled out her ballot, Montejo said. Two more voters were checking in. “And people were arriving to vote. But they could see the firetrucks and hear the alarm.”

As the alarm rang, election workers locked the ballot box, Montejo said. She scooped up unmarked ballots and put them in her car.

“I was the last one out of the room, the first one in,” she said, making sure the voting premises were secure.

In addition to firefighters, two police officers, including School Resource Officer Ken Strout, were on site. Both helped evacuate the building, Montejo said.

“Fifteen to 20 minutes later we were back in full operation,” she said.

— Bonnie Washuk


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