By Nok-Noi Hauger, Of the NEWS Staff - MAINE - Communities across the state that lie within school administrative districts and school unions are debating whether to pass a resolve that dedicates extra state education funding, expected next year, to reduce property tax rates.
Some communities are passing their own resolves loosely based on a Brewer resolution that devotes the additional funds made available through the passage of Question 1 on June 8 - which requires the state to fully fund 55 percent of education - to reduce property taxes.
Leaders of other SAD communities say passing a resolve is pointless because the money goes directly to the school district. Still others are trying to create joint resolves between school and municipal departments.
Brewer is taking an active role to get communities to consider the resolve, which dedicates 90 to 100 percent of the additional funds to reduce taxes. "Almost all of the communities that I've contacted, except for a handful, have shown support and will be taking this [resolve] up," Brewer Assistant City Manager Howard Kroll said last week. "Out of the 495 cities and towns in the state, I've called 470."
A law passed by the 1984 Maine Legislature recommended the state fund 55 percent of the cost of education. The state has never hit that mark, however, and this year paid for only about 43 percent of education costs with the remainder paid locally through property taxes.
In June, voters around the state approved Question 1, which forces the state to pay the 55 percent of education costs. Municipalities will receive the funding, except for those communities that fall into school districts and unions, which are composed of several municipalities. SADs and school unions instead will receive the money directly from the state. The additional education funding from Question 1 should be granted in the 2005 fiscal year.
The issue of how to spend the extra state funds - on property taxes or new school costs - is generating discussions all over the state, according to school officials.
Brewer City Manager Steve Bost has challenged municipal leaders from across the state to sign resolves similar to the one the City Council endorsed June 15. Since June, 85 cities and towns have jumped on the bandwagon. The Brewer school board endorsed the council's resolve at its July meeting.
If communities combine forces, it would demonstrate to state lawmakers that they need to implement Question 1 quickly, Bost said Wednesday. "The resolve and our effort to pull together as many communities as possible is intended to make a statement," he said. "That statement being that communities will apply this money directly to property tax relief. It will not be spent on unrelated things." He said that with the additional education funding, Brewer would be able to reduce its tax rate by about $2.40.
Community leaders in SAD 63, which includes Eddington, Clifton and Holden, have signed resolves that ask the school board to "clearly and expressly identify" the additional funds and to apply 90 percent to 100 percent of the additional funds toward reducing assessments for its three communities.
"Even though it might just be a piece of paper, it shows the residents that we want to reduce the mill rate," Eddington Selectman Brian Glass said during a July 6 meeting. "It puts it back on the school board and the superintendent."
The SAD 63 board has not discussed the resolutions from the three member towns, Chairman Don Varnum said Tuesday. "I feel it's far too early to commit any certain amount of funds back to tax relief," he said. "SAD 63 does its best to keep the taxes down. We'll do whatever we can to do that." Varnum said that "what we get [from the state] and the results of the Palesky tax cap in November" would determine how SAD 63 handles the expected additional funds.
Hampden and Winterport of SAD 22, which also includes Newburgh, have passed resolves that would reduce the mill, or property tax, rate. SAD 22 Superintendent Rick Lyons said Thursday that the SAD 22 board of directors has not formally addressed the issue of using Question 1 funds for property tax relief. Instead, board members have been focusing their attention on the Palesky tax cap referendum going before voters this fall. SAD 22 board members likely will take up the Question 1 issue later this fall, after the elections.
Lyons said, however, that he doesn't support the idea that the increased school funding a district gets should go directly to property tax relief, from both a policy standpoint and a logistical one. The school superintendent said that although increased state education funds could result in reduced property taxes, the primary reason and intent behind Question 1 was to increase funding for schools, he said. Lyons also said that assessing any funding increase a district gets isn't as simple as some have suggested. Complicating the matter is that any funding increases a school district gets may be attributed to other factors as well, from an increase in the number of students to reaching state-backed goals tied into funding. "There are many other factors contributing to that increase," Lyons said.
In contrast, according to Terry Depres, SAD 36 superintendent, what many people fail to understand is that the June initiative was specifically designed to reduce tax burdens. Despres heads schools in Livermore Falls and Livermore, and is chairman of the legislative committee of the Maine Superintendent's Association.
"[June's] Question 1 is specifically for property tax reduction," he said. "I think it's critical that school boards realize it's for property tax reduction. "It's not just extra budget funds. The legislation is specifically for the state to find ways to pick up its fair share."
Any resolves selectmen or town councils pass are worthless, said Dan Blanchette, administrative assistant to the Elliot Board of Selectmen. SAD 35 is composed of Elliot and South Berwick. "It's basically meaningless for the selectmen to adopt anything because we're not the ones in control," he said. "We've passed along all the information to the [school] board and we asked the school board to review the resolves that are being adopted throughout the state."
In the community of Lisbon, which is part of School Union 30 with Durham, town leaders have already passed their portion of a joint resolve that calls for the additional funds be used to cut the tax rate. "It's symbolic," Town Manager Curtis Lunt said. "The selectmen approved a joint resolution and we're waiting for the school board to do it."
Piscataquis County town managers will hear information on the resolve and discuss signing a countywide resolve during a meeting in September, according to Sophia Wilson, town manager in Brownville. "We try to do as many things as a county as we can because we're so small we try to speak with a combined voice," she said. "Individual towns will make individual choices." Brownville is part of SAD 41, which also includes Milo, LaGrange and Atkinson.
Work continues to get communities to follow Brewer's example, Kroll said Tuesday. Kroll has spent much of the last month calling and recalling every community in the state and is confident that the number will double by November. "If we don't come away with 150 communities, I'd be shocked," he said.
NEWS reporter Doug Kesseli contributed to this report.
|Back to News||Home||Print This Story|