DURHAM — Regional School Unit 5’s $33 million budget proposal is going to referendum with no changes to the spending proposal.

Only 50 voters showed up during Wednesday’s annual budget meeting — 28 from Freeport, 16 from Durham and six from Pownal — and without debate, approved 20 budget articles within 30 minutes.

The budget was approved Wednesday with little fanfare, although the district’s communities are often divided when it comes to the annual June referendum:  Freeport voters frequently vote in favor, with Pownal and Durham opposing.

Freeport residents last year approved the budget 620-233, while Pownal and Durham voted the budget down 112-71 and 246-184, respectively.

Only one time — in 2016 — have all three towns voted to pass the budget since the RSU’s 2009 creation.

Spending has caused rifts threatening to break up the school unit on more than one occasion. In 2009, Pownal residents forced a vote at their town meeting on whether to withdraw from the school unit.

Freeport debated withdrawing in 2013 after a measure to improve Freeport High School was defeated.

Durham residents voted against seceding from the school unit in 2016 and 2012.

On Wednesday, John Egan of Freeport thanked school officials for efforts in what he called “a well-thought-out and widely accepted budget.”

Superintendent Becky Foley said this year’s budget process has been quiet, despite many opportunities the public has had to speak to school board members about spending.

“I think that shows that even though there is a tax impact, they are supportive of education when we give a good rationale behind the request,” she said.

The $33.05 million spending plan, which includes adult education costs, includes an increase 2.31 percent. All three towns would see tax rate increases.

Durham’s tax rate of $18.85 per $1,000 of assessed value would increase by 18 cents. With the increase, the owner of a home valued at $200,000 could pay $3,806 in taxes.

Freeport’s current tax rate is $14.95 per $1,000 of assessed value and would see an estimated increase of 45 cents. With the estimated increase, the owner of a home valued at $200,000 could pay $3,080.

Pownal’s current tax rate is $17.25 per $1,000 of assessed value and it could increase by 66 cents. The owner of a home valued at $200,000 would pay $3,582 in taxes.

Participants had to vote by written ballot on the proposal to appropriate $7.4 million in additional local funds, because it exceeds the state’s Essential Programs and Services allocation model. The school board noted on the warrant that this funding formula “is a minimum model to support education in grades K-12. RSU No. 5 provides additional funds to support lower student-teacher ratios and additional co-curricular activities in addition to complete educational programs for all our students.”

The article passed 44-6.

This is an overall 4 percent tax increase largely because the district is increasing positions — including another half-time math strategist at the high school and a teacher at Mast Landing School because of an increase in enrollment.

Other increases are related to additional social work services and in the capital reserve line to allow for more building maintenance.

The referendum, as mandated by state law, will take place June 12.

Residents of Durham, Freeport and Pownal cast ballots at the Regional School Unit 5 budget meeting Wednesday in Durham. (Darcie Moore/Times Record)


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