DRESDEN — A first look at Regional School Unit 2’s proposed budget for 2021-22 has Dresden officials considering withdrawing from the district.

Dresden is not the only municipality critical of the school district’s proposed spending plan. Farmingdale and Monmouth officials are also questioning how they would pay what the district is asking.

RSU 2 enrolls students from Dresden, Farmingdale, Hallowell, Monmouth and Richmond, which has begun efforts to withdraw from the district.

Richmond residents are scheduled to vote June 8 on whether the town will withdraw.

The district’s budget proposal for the coming school years called for a 4.01% spending increase, but Superintendent Tonya Arnold said that has been reduced to 3.01%. The reduction came after the district removed some items from the spending plan, such as three janitorial positions that have gone unfilled. Officials said the district plans to use coronavirus relief funds to pay for the positions.

“The 3.01% increase consists of the elements beyond control, such as contract based salary schedules negotiated in the past, insurance rate increases and a (consumer price index) increase factored on purchasing kept at the same levels,” Arnold said.

It is unclear what the local share will be with the spending reduction in place. But the initial proposal showed the increases would range from 8.77% on the low end to 11.27% on the high end.

Last year’s municipal allocation was $6 million. The initial proposal called for a local share of $7.46 million, an increase of $1.45 million, or 24%.

Broken down by town, the initial proposal calls for:

• Dresden to pay $1.96 million, an increase of $186,286 — or 10.53% — from its current $1.77 million.

• Farmingdale to pay $3.11 million, an increase of $304,644 — or 10.88% — from its current $2.8 million.

• Hallowell to pay $3.49 million, an increase of $281,699 — or 8.77% — from its current $3.21 million.

• Monmouth to pay $5.75 million, an increase of $582,311 — or 11.27% — from its current $5.17 million.

• Richmond to pay $3.82 million, an increase of $319,621 — or 9.14% — from its current $3.5 million.

That “doesn’t sit well with” Dresden Selectmen John Rzasa, who said he is interested in the town’s exploring withdrawal from RSU 2.

“We are not a rich community. We don’t have a lot of kids in the school system,” he said. “It just seemed like we were getting hosed before it’s over and done with.”

While he is willing to discuss issues with school officials, Rzasa still wants to create a committee to explore withdrawal, a lengthy process with many steps determined by the Department of Education.

Farmingdale officials have not mentioned withdrawal, but Selectmen Doug Ebert said the town would have to vote the budget down if it remained the way it was initially drafted.

He said he learned about local share hike in an email last week from Arnold, who wrote that the proposed town contribution was “the worse case scenario.” In the email, she also wrote a town Farmingdale’s size is expected to get around $100,000 to $200,000 coronavirus relief funds “to help offset costs to taxpayers.”

“Fingers crossed that you receive that much or more,” Arnold wrote.

Ebert said Farmingdale is now planning its budget for next year, and has not received indication of how much it will receive in coronavirus relief funds. He said he was unhappy Arnold has yet to receive that information.

“On top of that, she’s done the research to see how much the towns are getting from the relief act that we don’t even know if we can use to offset the costs,” Ebert said. “Now we are going to have to throw this in the mix, which is going to change the outlook in projects for the town and we don’t have that much money, and we don’t want to ask the townspeople.

“It’s not a good time to ask for extra money. Everyone is in the same boat. It’s not about how much it’s going to cost each person but about jumping the budget.”

Monmouth Town Manager Linda Cohen said her community’s local share in the initial budget draft is much greater than the expected amount of coronavirus relief funds it would receive. She said she did not think the town would be able to use those funds to offset the school tax hike — and Monmouth was not planning to do so, either.

“There is no way we can afford this,” Cohen said. “The town has capital issues to take care of.”

Cohen said she also received an email suggesting there would be “$250,000 to $300,000 from the new Relief Act to help offset costs to taxpayers.”

“Fingers crossed that you receive that much or more,” she said.

Monmouth Selectmen Doug Ludewig said he was “hoping (the budget) will go down,” noting the town is “big on education” and residents may support it. He said he did not know how much of an impact there will be yet because the town hasn’t gotten its mill rate back yet.

“For Monmouth, it would be almost an increase of $50,000 per month,” Ludewig said. “We are hoping they find money, maybe from the federal government and with the new relief President Biden enacted.”

Doug Ide, Hallowell’s interim city manager, said he hasn’t taken a close enough look to comment, but said “it’s all in a state of flux.” He noted the budget may change before it goes to voters, and didn’t know if residents would approve it as it currently drafted.

Arnold said the municipal allocation increases are because the “state valuation of real estate for each municipality increased,” the district has not received the 2019-20 fiscal year audit, and the “(Department of Education) required local contributions from taxpayers toward education increase.”

“The Cares Act funds and relief packages have been required to be used for new above budget needs based on the impact of COVID to comply with the six safety requirements to meet additional health, safety and social and emotional academic needs that were not already in our regular 2020-2021 budget,” Arnold said. “Therefore, these funds would not contribute to accumulating a surplus to carry forward.”

According to the state Department of Education, RSU 2 has received $4.88 million over four rounds of federal coronavirus relief funding, and has an unspent balance of $3.91 million from that funding and two rounds of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding.

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