This November my fellow residents of Freeport’s District 4 have an opportunity to elect a new representative as our councilor. Andy Wellen’s stated commitment to our public schools, preserving neighborhood character, fiscal responsibility, and understanding the necessity of a vibrant business community will benefit all residents of Freeport.
I believe Andy Wellen will be an even-keeled, respectful, open-minded elected official who will welcome input from all citizens. I support Andy Wellen’s desire to bring his fresh perspective to Freeport’s Town Council.
Allowing the state of Maine to issue same-sex marriage licenses may re-define marriage in one particular, but it doesn’t harm anyone’s practice of their religion.
The current law, however, is clearly punitive. We have a contention now between inclusion and exclusion, the latter course for those who see themselves fighting sin, whereas those for inclusion do not find sinfulness in someone’s commitment to establishing a permanent relationship of mutual trust with another individual, sanctioned by their religion and called marriage.
Holds her own
For the past eight years, as the representative for Freeport and part of Pownal, I have worked with both Susan Austin and Rep. Anne Graham. Anne stands out.
For the past six years, I have served on the Appropriations Committee achieving bi-partisan budgets due to constructive compromise; that is, until this past session when compromise was overwhelmed by Republicans with a rigid ideology. This happened, in part, due to moderates not being backed by their quiet “follow the leader” colleagues. While Democrats produced the necessary votes for a compromise, the Republicans could not.
The point is that Susan, while in the Legislature, was a lovely person who sat quietly, submitted many, many legislative sentiments and voted party line. Anne works hard; challenging her leadership, reaching across the aisle and voting independently. Anne is energized, engaging many who agree and disagree while pushing for progress. She holds her own in the halls of Augusta.
With expertise in health and human service and pressing for state and local government efficiency, Anne has promoted ideas to save taxpayer dollars and pushed both Democrats and Republicans to come together.
I like Susan. We have had a cordial and friendly relationship, just like other members of both parties who are nice. But in Augusta, while it is important to not be disagreeable, it is equally important to lean in and push people toward agreements that work for Maine people.
If you want substantive change, a move away from ideology and solutions, vote Anne Graham.
Rep. David Webster
Withdrawal decision isn’t just about money
When I first started researching the feasibility of Durham’s withdrawal from RSU 5 earlier this year, first on my own, then as chairman of the selectmen’s Educational Exploration Committee, I didn’t know if withdrawal was a good idea or not. Like most people, I had my opinions and assumptions, but I didn’t really know for sure. I also didn’t like that the state of Maine had forced school consolidation on towns under the threat of losing state funding for education. However, that alone doesn’t necessarily make the end result a bad thing. The issue deserved another look. An honest, well-informed conclusion required an objective review of the facts, an open mind and a willingness to accept the possibility that what I thought was true, might not be.
There are many issues to look at when considering whether withdrawal from RSU 5 would be in the best interest of Durham, but the primary issue I heard about when speaking to people around town involved property taxes.
There is a perception among many that the school budget has grown dramatically since joining the RSU, and that this has caused a large increase in our property taxes. The data shows this perception is not accurate. The school budget average annual growth rate has actually been much lower as part of the RSU (2.9 percent) than in the 10 years prior to joining RSU 5 (5.0 percent).
This isn’t to say that many residents haven’t seen significant property tax increases since we joined RSU 5 in 2009. Many have. However, just because two events happened at the same time, doesn’t mean one caused the other. The two primary events that resulted in property tax increases for many residents occurred around the time we joined the RSU, but they were not caused by the RSU and won’t be changed or eliminated if we leave RSU 5.
First, in 2009 we made our first interest payment of $89,000 on the bond for the gym, roof and heating system options at the new school that were not funded by the state, but were approved by Durham voters prior to joining RSU 5. In 2010, when the school opened, this payment jumped to $178,000 because we started paying on the principal of the bond as well.
Second, in 2010 the town conducted a revaluation of all property in Durham. Since property taxes are based on property valuation, it’s important that the recorded values be accurate so that the tax burden can be distributed fairly. As a result, many saw their tax bills go down, while many others saw their tax bills go up because of large increases in the valuation of their property. This was the primary reason for the large tax increases some have seen since 2009. Compare your tax bills from 2009 and 2010 to see how revaluation affected you. The town office has this information if you no longer have your tax bills.
The withdrawal decision isn’t just about money. Educational issues must also be considered. Some have advocated a return to being a K-8 school district with some form of high school choice. This is understandable. Prior to joining the RSU, it was all we knew. Many are simply more comfortable with this arrangement because it worked for them or their children. Things have changed, however. For the first time in our history, kids and parents have had the opportunity to experience what it’s like for Durham to be a fully participating member of a complete K-12 school district. They have seen the benefits this brings to our kids’ education, and the community as a whole. In all of the emails, phone calls and personal conversations I’ve had about this issue over the last several months, I do not recall even one parent with a child currently in the school system that wanted to go back to the way things were before joining RSU 5.
Many are concerned with the fact that Freeport has the majority of RSU 5 School Board seats and a voting population larger than that of Durham and Pownal combined. The fear is that this power could be used to Freeport’s advantage without concern for the interests of Durham or Pownal. If the roles were reversed and Durham was the town with the majority of the voting power, I don’t think we would ever use that power to our advantage at the expense of the other towns. I don’t think Freeport will either. I’ve reviewed the minutes from every RSU 5 board meeting and there has never been a vote split along town lines, or where all the board members from Freeport voted one way and all of the Board members from Durham and Pownal voted another. It just doesn’t happen.
It is true that last June was the first time Durham residents voted in favor of the RSU 5 school budget. In previous years, enough Freeport residents voted in favor of the budget to offset the number of residents in Durham and Pownal voting against it. However, I believe that prior to this year, Durham voters likely rejected the budget because we mistakenly blamed the RSU for property tax increases as described earlier. It is not a coincidence that an organized effort to provide voters with factual information about the school budget prior to the vote last June resulted in Durham’s approval of the budget. When provided with accurate information, sensible people make sensible choices.
The financial study completed by the committee appointed by the selectmen clearly shows that withdrawing from RSU 5 would cost the town somewhere between $900,000 and $1.14 million per year, even when compared to the cost of staying in the RSU and paying our share of a renovation and expansion to the high school. Some may vote in favor of withdrawal because of how they personally feel about high school choice or because of their desire for more local control of the K-8 school budget. It is their right to do so. However, they should not be under any illusion that either of these would save the town money, or be in the educational interest of Durham’s students. They should know that there is a very high price tag attached.