2016-08-18 / Front Page

Sanford voters will have deja vu Tuesday

Residents to vote on same school budget rejected in June
By TAMMY WELLS
Senior Staff Writer


Signs like this, placed by the group Build our Future, have been popping up around Sanford in advance of Tuesday’s school budget referendum vote. Voters previously rejected the proposed budget June 14. 
TAMMY WELLS/Journal Tribune Signs like this, placed by the group Build our Future, have been popping up around Sanford in advance of Tuesday’s school budget referendum vote. Voters previously rejected the proposed budget June 14. TAMMY WELLS/Journal Tribune SANFORD — Voters go to the polls Tuesday for a second validation vote on a proposed $38.1 million school budget after residents rejected it the first time on June 14.

Of the total, $14.4 million would come from local taxation.

While critics on social media have said the city should have sent voters a budget with a different amount than what was rejected, the City Council, Budget Committee and School Committee all supported sending the same figure to voters.

Proponents say funding the budget as presented is critical to Sanford youths and families.

“I followed the budget process closely. There is no fat in the budget. We feel it is a responsible budget,” said Brett Williams of Build Our Future, a group that was formed a couple of years ago to support the Sanford High School and Regional Technical Center construction referendum.

The group has continued, and came together to support the school budget after the June 14 referendum failed.

Votes rejected both municipal and school budgets in June, but the turnout didn’t meet the city charter threshold needed for a “no” vote: 25 percent of total votes cast in the last gubernatorial election.

The city portion of the budget has passed. However, state statutes prevail on school budgets, so a new vote is required. State law requires only a majority to vote a school budget up or down.

The budget takes into account a spike in special education students in the schools, requiring more teachers and aides. The schools were also hit with a 20 percent – $1 million – increase in health insurance premiums for the coming year.

Some teaching vacancies created by retirements won’t be filled, and three grant-funded positions have expired, school officials have said.

Williams said further cuts would impact extracurricular programs, music, art, athletics and more.

“There is no place left to cut.” he said.

To show its support, Build Our Future has been putting up “yes” signs around the city.

That was something Councilor Lucas Lanigan had pledged to do after the June 14 referendum failed. At last Tuesday’s council meeting, he said he had been getting ready to do so when he saw the “yes” signs placed around the city by Build Our Future.

The group has spent “a few hundred” dollars on signs, said Williams, and has not met the threshold required to register with the City Clerk’s office.

“A group of individuals would need to register with a municipality as a Political Action Committee once the group raised or spent more than $1,500 in aggregate during an election year, provided it has as its major purpose to initiate or influence a campaign,” said Emma Burke of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices.

Prior to the June 14 vote, Councilor Victor DiGregorio placed “no” signs around the city.

“I strongly believe, 101 percent, that the tax rate should be held,” said DiGregorio in a June 7 interview. “I feel strongly we can do without a tax increase.”

After the school budget failed to pass, DiGregorio said at a June 22 City Council meeting that he did not want to disturb the school budget.

If the school budget is approved by voters on Tuesday, it and the municipal budget combined will result in a 2.44 percent increase over last year’s spending plan.

For the owner of a single-family home valued at $150,000 who has signed up for the Homestead Exemption, the budget shouldn’t result in a property tax increase, city officials have said.

If the budget fails to pass a second time, a third vote will be held, and so on, until a budget is approved by voters.

City Clerk Sue Cote estimated that the special election so far is costing taxpayers about $2,600. That doesn’t include some additional costs, such as payroll for election workers.

Polls will be open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday. Voters in Ward 1 cast ballots at Nasson Community Center, 457 Main St.; Ward 2 voters cast ballots at St. Ignatius Gym, 25 Riverside Ave.; and those in Ward 3 vote at Curtis Lake Church, 38 Westview Drive.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or twells@journaltribune.com.

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