In a rare showing of support, residents of the three Regional School Unit 5 towns last week quickly approved all 21 articles in the $31,008,672 budget for 2016-17 .

The RSU 5 board has been through a lot in recent years, selling a budget increase of nearly 8 percent to voters last year, and dealing with attempted withdrawals in Freeport and in Durham. But at the annual budget meeting, May 25 at the Durham Commuity School, a total of 172 registered voters from Freeport, Durham and Pownal – with nary a comment – passed the budget. Given that, the June 14 budget referendum stands a good chance of passing.

“This is awesome,” Superintendent Ed McDonough said following the voting, which took less than an hour, including one article that required a written ballot. “It’s nice to see all three towns come out and support the budget. It’s much appreciated.”

The spending package is $1,518,469, or 5.15 percent, more than approved by voters last year. But McDonough and the board used money from the undesignated fund balance and extra funding received last year by the state to lower the impact on taxpayers to 1.19 percent. The budget will have virtually no impact in Freeport, which will absorb an increase of 0.25 percent. 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.

Prior to the voting, Chairwoman Michelle Ritcheson of Durham provided the audience with a quick budget overview. She said that the $31 million package provides more support for targeted student programs, adds time for teacher development and funds all administrator requests for supplies and maintenance. She also mentioned that $1 million of the spending increase is going to the first installment on the $14.6 upgrade at Freeport High School.

“We believe that this budget is educationally sound and fiscally responsible,” she said.

The breakneck speed of the voting process then commenced. There was a quick question at the outset regarding the level of the undesignated fund balance. Kelly Wentworth, director of finance and human resources, answered that RSU 5 has a balance of $793,759. Then, article by article, Ritcheson moved the question, and director Beth Parker of Freeport, sitting next to her, seconded the motion. Moderator Greg Im asked the audience if there were any questions. Seeing none, he brought each question to a quick vote.

Jeff Wakeman, chairman of the Durham Board of Selectmen, thanked the board and McDonough “for a really good process and holding the line on taxes.”

Ballot clerk Kim Best, right, checks the voter registration list and hands a voter card to a Pownal resident during the Regional School Unit 5 budget meeting at Durham Community School May 25.

Voters stand in line to cast their votes on article 15 of the Regional School Unit 5 budget for 2016-17 May 25 at Durham Community School.


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