FREEPORT

Residents of Durham, Freeport and Pownal will have their say on a spending proposal for their shared school unit in a meeting tonight at Freeport High School.

Regional School Unit 5’s total, current budget includes nearly $27.47 million in spending, of which nearly $21.5 million is paid for through local taxes.

Proposed expenditures for the next fiscal year are about $29.3 million, of which nearly $23.6 million would be paid for through local taxes.

The RSU board recently made $500,000 in cuts from requested expenditures, reducing its requested expenditure increase to 7.2 percent.

Here is how individual communities would be affected by the spending proposal:

Freeport

Freeport’s local share would increase from $15 million to nearly $16.5 million, or 9 percent.

Freeport’s current tax rate is $15.80 per $1,000 of assessed value, when municipal, county and school spending are taken into account.

According to the assessor’s office, the average assessment in Freeport is $288,200. The average tax bill for the current fiscal year is $4,554.

According to Freeport Finance Director Jessica Maloy, it would increase to $16.91. That would mean the average tax bill would increase to $4,890.75.

Durham

Durham’s local share would increase from $4.2 million to nearly $4.7 million, or about 10.7 percent.

Durham’s current tax rate is $16.65 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Should the RSU 5 spending plan pass as proposed, the tax rate might increase to $18.15, according to Town Administrator Ruth Glaeser, depending on factors including increasing valuation in town.

The average assessment in Durham is $163,300, and there would be a tax bill increase of $243 a year.

Pownal

Pownal’s local share would increase from $2 million to nearly $2.5 million, or 12.7 percent.

Pownal’s current tax rate is $34.80 per $1,000 of assessed value. Town Clerk Scott Seaver estimated that the overall tax rate increase in the town, including the RSU 5 budget, would be about $3 per $1,000. However, Seaver said he is “not making any predictions” until the state’s budget is passed. Pownal is also in the process of producing new property valuations, which won’t be available until sometime in June.

At 47 percent valuation, the average dwelling is valued at $72,491, and the average tax bill is about $2,522.

Under the proposed increase in RSU spending, Pownal’s average tax bill could increase $218.

Among major spending is $219,570 in interest payments for the high school renovation bond that will save the district $1.2 million, according to RSU 5 Board Chairman Nelson Larkins, and $269,000 for about eight education technicians for special needs students.

The spending proposal also includes funds for a fulltime Pownal Elementary School principal. Currently, the principal is a half-time position.

“The school staff and administration have worked very closely as to where the schools stand now. There are certain items absolutely critical to moving the schools forward,” Larkins said in an interview earlier this month..

During 2014’s unsuccessful attempt to withdraw Freeport from the RSU, residents made it “heard loud and clear” that they wanted better schools, said Larkins, and the spending proposal is a step in that direction.

The board also issued this statement on the RSU’s website: “Financial resources are — and will continue to be — scarce and often less than optimally desired. Knowing this, all members of RSU No. 5 need to be vigilant in ensuring that our resources are best spent in ways that will continue to promote our mission and vision.”

Freeport Town Councilor James Hendricks in an interview on Tuesday said he had concerns about school spending increases.

Hendricks said he would preferred if the RSU had waited until after its new superintendent takes the reins this summer before attempting to implement larger spending increases.

“Each year we’re seeing escalating costs to educate our students,” Hendricks said. “At some point, we’re going to reach a tipping point in balancing costs and needs, and the financial ability to pay.”

The spending proposal will have to clear one more hurdle after tonight’s meeting. Voters in each town will ratify the proposal in a referendum held in each town on June 9.

The budget meeting will be held at the high school gym beginning at 6:30 p.m. RSU 5’s board will hold a regular meeting starting at 5:30 p.m.

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