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Council blasts RSU 16 budget
MECHANIC FALLS — The proposed RSU 16 2011/2012 budget was a part of a lengthy discussion at the Town Council meeting Monday.
Several residents who attended a RSU 16 public hearing said that they left the meeting with unanswered questions, and feeling very discouraged about the budget.
The school budget commitee is proposing an increase in the budget to the tune of $1 million for this upcoming school year. About half of the increase is spread between the three towns of Minot, Mechanic Falls and Poland, with Minot taking the largest tax increase hit of the three towns.
The remainder will come from carryover funds, some of which came from a federal stimulus package.
The budget increase includes teacher's wage increases, new positions in the RSU and very little if any cuts to last year's budget of $17.1 million. The only cut that was voted at the end of last week's meeting was a cut of $11,000 out of the school budget committee member's stipend.
"Not much of a cut in a one million dollar budget increase," said Town Manager John Hawley.
Councilwoman Nancy Richards asked how the numbers added up.
"The budget committee said that the K4 program was said to have brought in a total of something like $100,000 but only costs $63,000. Where does this money even come from?" asked Richards. "It did not make any sense. And what about transportation? They did not talk about that part of it."
Also brought to the budget committee's attention was the fact that there was a $70,000 decrease in anticipated insurance cost this year, which members felt should have been taken out of the assessments. Council members expressed a feeling that the issues and budget were decided before the public hearing took place.
"And," Hawley added, "what will happen next year? When the RSU 16 consolidation was agreed upon three years ago, we were told it would save money. The first year, it saved us $92,000. The second year, we broke even, this year we have an increase with the probability of an increase next year. So after only three years we are already seeing that it is not saving our taxpayers money."
Council members urged the public to attend the public hearing for the school budget Wednesday May 11 at the Minot School at 6 p.m. Hawley commented that last year, out of 11,000 residents in the three towns, only about 100 people came to the meeting to vote on the school budget.
"The impact on Mechanic Falls is not as great as the impact of the increase on the Minot taxpayers," Hawley said, "but with an increase this year and maybe it being doubled next year, it makes it really hard on all taxpayers."
Councilwoman Richards reiterated, "it is really important to get as many people as possible to this meeting to voice their concerns. To get their questions answered. We need them to answer our questions. Not leave us feeling like they are hiding something."
"I am proud to say that the proposed municipal budget being recommended by the Council and Budget Committee is $480 less than last year," Hawley happily reported.
There will be a public hearing for this budget on Wednesday June 1 at 7 p.m. The Council will certify the warrant for the vote at its June meeting and the referendum vote will be on June 14.
June 14 will also be the elections. There are five people running for two three-year terms, and one person, Louis Annance, running for one two-year term. For the three year terms, running are incumbent Dan Blanchard, Cathy Fifield, Richard Wing, John Petricelli Sr, and Shawn Dostie. Also, Roger Guptill is running for the Sanitary District and Jacques Wiseman is running for RSU 16 School District.
The lack of an animal shelter was on the agenda as well. Animal Control Officer Robert Larabee, informed the town that there is an organization in the Norway area that will be able to take stray dogs in the near future. Until then, "it will have to be taken one dog at a time as the Androscoggin County Humane Society has not returned phone calls asking for information on using their facilities at this time," stated Hawley.
The Fire Department Brush Truck is just about complete, reported resident and volunteer fire fighter Shawn Dostie. He thanked the Town Council for its support and help in getting the truck ready for service.
"There is approx 4-5 more hours needed of electrical work to be done and I anticipate it will be in service by 6 p.m. tomorrow night," said Dostie.
"Thank you," chair councilman Dan Blanchard, responded. "You have put a lot of work into this project."
The public works repaired a rock wall at the Winterbrook Road intersection today.
"This was a $700 off budget repair that needed to be done, as we as a town own the rock wall and are responsible for the upkeep of it in exchange for a piece of property that was taken to widen the corner a few years back," Hawley told the council. A little extra was spent to seal the wall in the hopes that it would keep erosion of the wall to a minimum.
The moratorium was lifted on the development of adult entertainment and medicinal marijuana clinics. This was done due to the adoption of last month's ordinance amendments by Code Enforcement Officer Nick Richard and the Planning Board.
Some businesses in Mechanic Falls will be getting a higher tax bill this year. This is because they have not reported their personal property tax, many since 2005, as is required by the state. The failure to report gives the town the right to assess the increased value of a business, and tax accordingly.
Any business that was charged a higher rate on their taxes can dispute the assessment by turning in its personal property tax forms by April 1 of next year to get the rate lowered. On each tax bill that a business receives, it is stated on the bill that the town has the right to assess an increase if none is reported by April 1st of the next year.
This is the first year that Mechanic Falls has done the estimated assessments, thereby giving a bit more of the tax burden to the businesses rather than having it carried by the individual taxpayers.