FREEPORT — Residents of Durham, Freeport and Pownal added more than $245,000 to the proposed Regional School Unit 5 budget at the annual budget meeting on May 26.

The unexpected increase – supported by barely 1 percent of the RSU’s eligible voters – sends a $23.6 million fiscal 2011 budget to all voters on Tuesday, June 8, although it will remain up to the School Board to decide how to use the additional funds.

The first addition in the annual budget meeting was a suggestion from Durham resident Karen White. She proposed that $5,400 be added for library books.

Then, Freeport resident Peter Murray suggested adding $60,000 to the budget to help reduce class sizes at Freeport Middle School, which will increase when students from Pownal attend next year.

Then, Durham resident and former School Board member Laurie Poissonnier offered an amendment to add an additional $180,000 for teachers in all three towns.

Eventually, the town meeting-style gathering voted 115-34 to add a total of $245,400.

Chairman Nelson Larkins said the board would consider the recommendations from the public. 

“The board will not make any changes to the budget until after the vote on June 8,” he said. “Hiring is on hold, and to me, timing is a concern. Nothing will occur until we find out if the budget is approved.”

Although Freeport has 6,260 registered voters, only 120 people attended the budget meeting. Twenty-five of Durham’s 3,400 registered voters showed up for the annual meeting and of the 1,302 registered voters in Pownal, 41 residents attended.

“Those who participate,” Larkins said, “get a large say in the budget.”

The $245,400 would have tax impacts in all three towns.

In Pownal, before the increase, there would have been a reduction of $11,500. Now, their share would increase $18,000.

In Durham, residents could have expected a tax reduction of $55,000. Now they will face an increase of $3,600.

Freeport residents would have faced a $7,000 increase, but will now see an increase of $164,000.

Scott Poulin, a Freeport resident and finance director in School Administrative District 51, said he was concerned about the last-minute increases. He said the additions are not subsidized by the state and would be the responsibility of taxpayers.

“The board had a happy medium,” Poulin said. “By adding this money, I am concerned the budget won’t pass at the polls on June 8.”

Pownal resident Alan Bradstreet said he was pleased with all the work by the board and the administrators, but he could not support the increase.

“I will be in the forefront of defeating this budget if it gets to the ballot,” he said.

But Jen Cox, a Freeport resident, said she supported the increase.

“We can’t take this lightly,” she said. “I know these are tough financial times, but a cut to our children’s future is a bad decision. Everyone has to dig deep.”

Polls will be open for the budget validation referendum on June 8 at the Freeport High School gym from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Durham Elementary School, 654 Hallowell Road, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Mallett Hall, 429 Hallowell Road, Pownal.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 7681-3661 ext. 110 or [email protected]

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