Opinion

An open letter to the voters of the town of Madawaska

To the editor:

I write this with the most respect for all.

On Tuesday March 28th, voters will once again head to the polls to vote on a proposal for the 2016-17 Madawaska School Department Budget. I believe this will be the sixth time the budget is presented for a referendum vote. We are now nearing the end of nine months into the current fiscal year. Even though the school system is a department of the town, this budget is not the town manager’s to develop and/or administer. The laws governing school finance are one in the same, whether a town has a school department or is part of a regional system such as an SAD or RSU.

I have remained completely silent publicly on the school budget issue because, I am of the opinion, and always have been, that as a public servant, it is my job is to administer the budget the voters adopt, not try to persuade voters to vote for or against any particular budget. Therefore I offer no opinion about the current budget proposal in regards to its contents and soundness.

The Town’s school committee and finance committee have worked diligently to develop this latest proposal which has the unanimous support of both bodies.  It is their unanimous recommendation to vote “Yes” on this current budget.   I too, am encouraging the voters to vote “Yes” on this latest version. Simply put, I can’t in good faith, continue to see a budget voted down this late into the fiscal year.

Some might ask, why keep bringing the budget back for a vote over and over again. The answer is simple. The law compels the Town to continue to develop a budget and vote on a budget until such time as the voters approve the budget and/or the fiscal year comes to an end. The laws require that the school superintendent and school committee keep spending to that level which was approved by the last Town Meeting vote that the budget was approved at.

Each time, we hold a referendum, this is costing you the residents and taxpayers approximately $1,500 per election and another $500 per special town meeting. This is money that we simply do not have in the current budget for elections. Thankfully, we changed the chart of accounts last year and the budget adoption process at town meeting. The elections account is part of the overall General Government Department. Therefore our deficit spending is “legal” in the sense that we are now “robbing Peter to pay Paul” to cover the additional election expenses.  Otherwise, we would have to hold a special town meeting, just to overdraft the account.

If this latest proposal fails, I fear that we will be compelled to once again call another Town Meeting and special referendum and spend yet another $2,000 for both the Town Meeting and the Referendum.  That simply does not make good fiscal sense given the fact that we will be nearing the end of the current fiscal year, a new budget proposal for the 2017-18 fiscal year is currently being developed and will also be voted on at the regular scheduled annual town meeting and June referendum.

The finance committee has publicly stated that the focus is on next year and developing a budget that meets the educational needs of the students while being cognizant of the local taxpayers.  I believe the finance committee. I trust the finance committee.

Once the new budget is approved at town meeting, whether or not it is approved at referendum, it effectively ends the current year’s budget adoption process. As your town manager, I will uphold the laws of the state of Maine and continue to follow them in regards to the election and referendum process for school budgets, but I am compelled under the statutes found at Title 30A to fulfill 14 requirements under the Town Manager Plan. In this case, three of those 14 requirements apply: Make recommendations; Inform of financial condition; and execute laws and ordinances.

In closing, I have informed you of the financial condition regarding our expense of elections, I will execute the laws regarding adoption of school budgets and finally, I recommend that you vote “Yes” on the latest school budget proposal.

Thank you for your time and consideration and if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

Ryan D. Pelletier,
town manager

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