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Madawaska voters can see revised school budget July 26

MADAWASKA, Maine – Parents and voters will have their first chance to voice an opinion on a revised Madawaska school budget, Tuesday, July 26, at the school department’s budget hearing.

School Superintendent Gisele Dionne and members of the school committee went to work on revising the 2016 – 17 budget after it failed at the referendum ballot stage on June 14, with 517 voting against it and 353 voting in favor. School committee members voted 2-1, June 30 to put forth the revised $6.3 million school budget to voters.

Going largely against the recommendations of the town’s finance committee, the school committee members who voted in favor of the latest revisions are hoping the financial bottom line will be acceptable to voters this time.

Madawaska uses a two-step school budget approval process, and following the budget hearing a formal secret ballot referendum vote will be scheduled, if it passes at the hearing.

Since it failed to pass at the previous referendum stage, Dionne has revised the budget to include updated revenue projections, resulting in shaving an additional $127,000 from the local tax commitment.

At the June 30 school department meeting, some members of the finance committee voiced concern that such adjustments would be unlikely to appease enough voters, and that they will likely be more agreeable to a school budget that is part of a long range plan to address shrinking enrollments and rising costs.

Of the 13 budget articles to be presented at the July 26 hearing, only five received a concurring recommendation from the finance committee.
At issue is the difference in what school committee members feel is appropriate to raise in tax dollars beyond the set-recommended minimum, and what members of the finance committee see is realistic.

The revised budget calls for raising an additional $756,867 beyond the Essential Services and Programs minimum. Finance committee members see this as too much, and recommend further cuts.

One potential way to address the school funding shortfall that was brought up at the June meeting is now set to be discussed by the Board of Selectpersons at their July 19 meeting.

Discussion of using municipal undesignated funds to offset any school-driven tax increase is on that agenda. At the June meeting, Selectman Don Chasse offered to help facilitate such a discussion between the school department and the board.

The school department “gave back” $205,000 to the town as part of a property tax abatement agreement with Twin Rivers Paper Inc., three years ago, accordo to Dionne. She said at the June meeting that it may be time for such financial help to go the other way.

If the new budget passes on July 26, then a referendum vote on the school budget could take place on August 16.

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