Update on LD 1082: SAD 44 residents testify at hearing

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Local officials wait for the public hearing on LD 1082 to start on Wednesday. From left are Newry Town Administrator Loretta Powers, Bethel Town Manager Christine Landes, Woodstock Town Manager Vern Maxfield and SAD 44 Supt. Dave Murphy. Entering the room in the background is state Rep. Fran Head. (Photo: C. Newell)
Local officials wait for the public hearing on LD 1082 to start on Wednesday. From left are Newry Town Administrator Loretta Powers, Bethel Town Manager Christine Landes, Woodstock Town Manager Vern Maxfield and SAD 44 Supt. Dave Murphy. Entering the room in the background is state Rep. Fran Head. (Photo: C. Newell)
Local officials wait for the public hearing on LD 1082 to start on Wednesday. From left are Newry Town Administrator Loretta Powers, Bethel Town Manager Christine Landes, Woodstock Town Manager Vern Maxfield and SAD 44 Supt. Dave Murphy. Entering the room in the background is state Rep. Fran Head. (Photo: C. Newell)

“Listening to the testimony, our situations are drastically different.”

That was Woodstock Town Manager Vern Maxfield’s take on SAD 44 and SAD 6 at Wednesday’s public hearing on LD 1082 in Augusta, before the Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs. (For background on the bill see related article this page.)

The two school districts are bound together by legislation that in 2005 kept their local budget shares determined entirely by property valuation. Because of that, Newry in SAD 44 and Frye Island in SAD 6 each pay a large portion of their district’s budget. Frye Island now seeks to change that cost-sharing formula to 50 percent valuation, 50 percent student population, a change that would also affect SAD 44.
State Rep. Fran Head (R-Bethel) and state Sen. John Patrick (D-Rumford), in speaking at Wednesday’s hearing, both proposed an amendment be made to the bill to remove SAD 44 from the legislation.
Testimony from Frye Islanders  told of a mil rate and tax bills for comparable-sized homes much higher than for other towns in SAD 6. Property owners and the Frye Island town manager said real estate values are declining because taxes are so high, and the town will struggle to survive if the situation continues. The town also has only one vote out of 995 weighted votes on the SAD 6 School Board because representation is set by student population, which for Frye Island is zero. The island is located in Sebago Lake.
Residents of other towns in SAD 6 said at the hearing they are worried that with a change in the local funding formula Buxton, a town of 8,000, would see an increase in its school share of $400,000; Hollis, with 4,200 residents, an increase of $170,000; and Limington, with 3,700 people, an increase of $230,000.
On the SAD 44 side of the testimony, only Tama Drown of Newry spoke in favor of LD 1082, citing Newry’s 68 percent share of the school budget and relatively small voting representation on the School Board. (Interested parties could also simply submit written testimony on the bill without speaking.)
A half dozen people from SAD 44 towns spoke against the bill or at least to remove SAD 44 from it, citing projected increases to the school budget share of $1.6 million for Bethel, $697,000 for Woodstock and $59,000 for Greenwood. For Bethel and Woodstock those increases in a single year would be about 60 percent, according to Supt. Dave Murphy.
Other local residents testifying said Newry taxpayers have the best mil rate in SAD 44.
Among those speaking were Maxfield, Bethel Town Manager Christine Landes, Woodstock SAD 44 School Director Marcel Polak, Murphy, Steve Wight of Newry and Cathy Newell of Greenwood.
Many of the Frye Island/SAD 6 taxpayers spoke first. Maxfield was the first from SAD 44 to speak in opposition to the bill, and prefaced his remarks with an observation that the two situations seem very different.
Testimony lasted about 90 minutes. Excerpts from some of the local testimony will be posted on this website Thursday.
 A work session is expected to be scheduled  in the near future for the committee to evaluate the testimony and other information, and move toward making a recommendation on the bill for the Legislature.
For texts of all the written testimony submitted on the bill go to:  http://legislature.maine.gov/bills/testimony.html?snum=127&PID=0#

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