FREEPORT — Next year’s proposed Regional School Unit 5 budget could increase 3.47% to reach $35.4 million, raising taxes district-wide by 4.77%, according to preliminary numbers.

The hike could result in a 3.25% increase in the district’s tax assessment to Freeport, 3.04% to Durham and 2.81% to Pownal.

A Freeport taxpayer with a home valued at $200,000 could pay an additional $98; taxpayers in Durham and Pownal with a home worth the same could pay an extra $120 and $102, respectively, according to Finance Director Ann Cromer.

She noted that those numbers are only estimates, and reflect 2019 town valuation and tax rates for the three towns.

Of the approximately $28 million that could be assessed to the three towns, Freeport’s part could be about $19.7 million (up $929,000), Durham’s $5.4 million (up nearly $214,000), and Pownal $3.2 million (up about $125,000).

RSU 5 officials expect the district to receive $5.42 million in state aid to education, an increase of approximately $456,000.

An increase in estimated salary and benefits – $1.27 million, or 3.7% – is the largest driver behind the 3.47% budget hike. The district looks to spend $99,000 on the first part of a three-year lease-purchase for three buses, due both to increased enrollment and “the need to have a couple of spare buses as we expand our extra-curricular offerings,” Superintendent Becky Foley said. “We’re moving our kids to more sports (events).”

Because some of its lease-purchases are cycling out, RSU 5 could see a drop in that line item from nearly $365,000 to about $162,000, Cromer said.

“This is why we feel like this was the year to add the additional buses,” Foley said.

RSU 5 looks to increase its substitute teacher pay line by $60,000 to more realistically reflect that need. Looking at historical spending over a three-year period, if the district finds it has under-budgeted something, it increases that funding, Foley explained.

Additional staffing includes a math teacher at Freeport High School ($82,000, including benefits), to address an enrollment increase there, according to Foley. The student population was 580 last October, and is projected to reach 618 this year; it was 519 in 2011.

Other new staff includes a half-time social worker at the high school and a half-time guidance counselor at Durham Community School ($41,000 each), both due to greater need, Foley said.

Grants are funding two special education technicians, allowing the district to cut $72,000 from next year’s budget. Due to an expected decline in enrollment from 234 to 222 at the Mast Landing elementary school, an $82,000 teaching position there is being eliminated; that person could replace a retiring teacher elsewhere, Foley said.

The past few years have shown greater support for RSU 5 budgets in Freeport than in Durham and Pownal. Of the 553-266 approval margin last year, the spending plan passed 333-98 in Freeport, 85-72 in Durham, and 135-96 in Pownal, The Times Record reported. Freeport voters in 2018 approved the budget by 1,837 to 470, while in Durham it passed 553-346, and in Pownal, 321-200.

Freeport approved the budget in 2017 by 620-233, while Durham rejected it 246-184, as did Pownal, 112-71.

The RSU 5 board is due to adopt the budget March 25. The spending plan goes before voters twice: at a district budget meeting May 27, and a budget validation referendum June 9.

Budget information is available at rsu5.org/Content2/budget2021.

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