Sanford residents will vote Tuesday on a $38.1 million school budget identical to the one they rejected in June.

It will be the first time Sanford voters have ever had to return to the polls for a second vote on the school budget.

City and school officials tasked with reviewing the budget after the June rejection say they can’t cut any more from the budget without eliminating programs and are reluctant to do so without a clear mandate from voters that the budget be reduced. Voters are not asked to indicate whether the budget is too high or too low, a question that is often asked of voters in other communities.

“If the budget doesn’t pass this time, we’re facing potential reductions in programs and staff,” said Superintendent David Theoharides. “The community has always supported the school budget by an overwhelming majority.”

On June 14, voters rejected both the school budget and the $24.2 million city budget, which combined amounted to a 2.44 percent overall spending increase. The vote on the school budget was 1,054 to 785. There are more than 13,000 registered voters in the city.

Immediately after the election, there was confusion about whether a second school budget vote would actually be required. A provision in the city charter sets a threshold for the number of votes needed to reject the municipal budget. Shortly after voters rejected both budgets – but with a low enough turnout that the municipal budget was considered passed because it fell 18 votes shy of the threshold – city officials determined the charter provision did not apply to the school budget vote.

That determination set in motion a review of the budget by the city’s Budget Committee and City Council. Those boards, after discussions of the budget and public hearings, voted unanimously to forward to voters the same budget without changes. It also ignited debates on social media about taxes in Sanford and whether the school budget was too high.

That debate apparently never spilled over into the city meetings, where fewer than a dozen residents showed up to weigh in on the budget proposal.

Mayor Tom Cote said the Budget Committee – composed of city councilors and private citizens – and the City Council each hosted a public hearing on the budget after the June 14 vote.

“What was interesting about that meeting was that many of those people wanted the school budget to be higher. They wanted programs reinstated that had previously been cut, like sports and other activities,” he said. “We heard a couple folks concerned in general about taxation, but nothing in regards to reducing the school budget itself.”

The combined city and school budgets are up 2.44 percent and, if the school budget is approved, will add 71 cents to the tax rate, which will increase to $22.75 per $1,000 of valuation. That increase would result in an extra $120.70 on the bill of a home valued at $170,000. But city officials say that increase will be offset by an increase in the homestead exemption for anyone who owns a home valued at $170,000 or less.

The school budget, of which $14.4 million will come from local taxes, eliminates four positions that had previously been funded by a Nellie Mae Grant. Educational programming in the district will remain the same, but a budget increase was needed to deal with special education costs and a $1 million increase in health insurance premiums, according to school officials.

Shortly before the June election, City Councilor Victor DiGregorio spent more than $1,000 on signs urging residents to vote against the budget. Those signs, posted at highly visible spots around the city, were intended to get people to think about the city budget and programs such as pay-as-you-throw trash collection, he said this week.

“The citizens here are really burdened,” he said. “We have a large senior population and money is tight for everybody.”

DiGregorio said he did not oppose the school budget in June and still doesn’t. Though some may have interpreted his signs as opposition to both budgets, he said he never intended to go after school spending.

“I don’t want that budget cut. I want the (school) budget enhanced,” he said, adding he’d like to see junior high athletics that were eliminated reinstated and more money spent on special education.

A local group called Build Our Future, which also pushed for community support for the new high school currently under construction, is urging residents to support the budget. The group has posted messages on social media and hung signs around the city.

No formal opposition group has emerged to speak out against the proposed budget.

City and school officials say they are concerned there will be a small voter turnout Tuesday because of the timing in the middle of summer.

“Hopefully the turnout is greater and will give us a better read on what the entire community is willing to support from the school spending perspective,” Cote said.

City Clerk Sue Cote said she received more than 110 requests for absentee ballots ahead of Tuesday’s vote and 89 had been returned by Thursday.

Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday. Ward 1 voting will be in the Nasson Community Center gym on Main Street; Ward 2 will vote at St. Ignatius Parish Hall on Riverside Avenue; and Ward 3 will vote at Curtis Lake Christian Church on Westview Drive.


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