Michelle Ritcheson saw history being made with the June 14 vote on the Regional School Unit 5 budget.
“For the first time in RSU 5 history, all three towns (Durham, Freeport, Pownal) voted in favor of the school budget,” the school board chairwoman from Durham said. “The board is extremely pleased with the outcome of the vote. This year’s budget and the process we used to arrive at it, went very smoothly. We delivered a budget that met the needs of our children and teachers while respecting the need for fiscal responsibility.”
Not only did the $31,008,672 budget for 2016-2017 pass easily, by an aggregate vote of 1,311-455, the outcome marked the first time since RSU 5 was formed in 2009 that Pownal voted for the budget, which is a 5.15 percent increase from last year. RSU 5 officials were able to make the spending level more palatable to voters by using money from the undesignated fund balance and extra money received last year by the state to lower the impact on taxpayers to 1.19 percent.
The $31 million package provides more support for targeted student programs, adds time for teacher development and funds all administrator requests for supplies, as well as maintenance. Of the spending increase, $1 million is going to the first installment on the $14.6 upgrade at Freeport High School.
The budget will have a relatively small impact on Freeport, adding 4 cents to a tax rate of $16.80 per $1,000 in assessed property value. Durham residents will see a relatively modest 1.25 percent increase. Pownal will get hit a little harder, with an increase of 3.51 percent. In the annual budget meeting held May 25 at Durham Community School, voters in the three towns quickly passed all 21 articles in the budget package, with barely a comment. Last week’s budget vote was on the bottom line only.
In town-by-town results, Durham residents supported the budget 198-115, Freeport passed it 1,006-262 and Pownal approved the spending, 107-78.
Tim Giddinge, chairman of the Pownal Board of Selectmen, said that Pownal residents looked at the 1.9 percent figure, and went with it, even though Pownal was hardest hit by the spending increase.
“I’ve got to believe it’s got to do on RSU 5’s part on a conservative budget increase,” Giddinge said. “For Pownal, it’s still a pretty good increase. But they’re seeing a 1.9 percent increase and they’re saying that’s not too bad. I think the school board is being rewarded by putting forward a responsible budget.”
In article 2 of the RSU 5 referendum, voters approved sticking with the referendum process by a vote of 1,258-470. Town by town, the vote was Durham 234-72, Freeport 885-354, Pownal 139-44.