The Regional School Unit 5 Board of Directors on Wednesday adopted a revised budget for next year that is about $836,000 that its previously-approved version.

FREEPORT — The Regional School Unit 5 Board of Directors on Wednesday approved a scaled-down fiscal year 2021 budget that would result in a 2.32% expenditure increase, down from the 3.62% the panel adopted April 1.

The $836,000 reduction brings the proposed budget down from $35.4 million to $34.99 million, about $792,000 more than current spending. The cuts could result in a 0.25% tax increase for Freeport, a 0.91% decrease for Durham and a 0.14% increase for Pownal – in accordance with the School Board’s recent objective to reduce tax impacts amid the economic challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

For a home valued at $200,000 in each of the three towns, the school budget would cause a tax bill in Freeport to rise $7.13, in Durham to fall $36.93, and in Pownal to rise $5.14, according to board Chairwoman Michelle Ritcheson.

To offset expenses, the district would use $549,000 from the fiscal year 2019 unexpended fund balance, up $389,000 from what it planned to use last month. A Morse Street School kindergarten teacher, to be paid $82,000 including benefits, has been removed from next year’s budget. Also included in the cost reductions is $106,000 from all staff taking one furlough day.

Superintendent Becky Foley had earlier this week proposed a budget reduction of about $940,000. Board member Valy Steverlynck called for adding back in four positions, which she called worthwhile investments: a literacy teacher at the Mast Landing School ($18,500), a math educational technician at Freeport Middle School ($18,000), and a Pownal Elementary School pre-kindergarten position and Durham Community School pre-kindergarten teacher/educational technician ($67,500 combined).

The measure passed 7-4. Valy, Ritcheson and fellow board members Jeremy Clough, Lindsey Furtney, Susana Hancock, Maura Pillsbury and Madelyn Vertenten supported Foley’s reductions, but with the positions cited by Steverlynck added back in. Kate Brown, Candy deCsipkes, Jennifer Galletta and Beth Munsen voted against the motion.


Public comment was scheduled for the start and end of the remote meeting, but none was allowed during the budget discussion as per board policy. Ralph Dean, a member of the public, rebuked the School Board for not being able to weigh in during those talks, calling that policy “disgracefully undemocratic.”

Ritcheson said the public could comment at the June 17 district budget meeting, at which RSU 5 residents will make the first of two votes on the budget. The second and final vote follows on July 14, at the budget validation referendum.

Freeport’s overall tax levy, including municipal expenses and assessments from RSU 5 and Cumberland County, was to have been $26.3 million, up 3.87% and adding 56 cents per $1,000 of property valuation to its tax rate. Of that amount, RSU 5’s $19.68 million assessment was to be up 4.56%, adding 49 cents of the total 56.

But as a result of the school budget cuts and a resultant 0.25% increase in Freeport’s assessment, only 11 cents could be added to the town’s $14.30 tax rate – including 4 cents from RSU 5, nearly 3 cents from the county, about 4 cents from a new METRO system transit tax, and a 12-cent decrease on the town side.

The tax bill on a home valued at $300,000 could increase $33.

Freeport’s proposed $10.5 million municipal budget reflects a nearly $91,000 (0.86%) spending increase, which is offset by a nearly $97,000 non-property tax revenue hike, resulting in a $6,156 property tax decrease on the town side, according to Town Manager Peter Joseph.

The town is planning for a $100,000 increase in excise tax revenue due to projected new car sales and promotions, despite the pandemic, and is cutting paving expenses by $150,000 due to reduced pricing and projects alike. Although the town had budgeted $595,000 for state revenue sharing, the economic crisis’ impact on that fund has caused Joseph to reduce that expectation to $495,000; Freeport had once been receiving about $700,000 annually.

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