News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, February 21, 2013
Municipal warrant shows slight rise, school budget up at Penobscot Town Meeting

by Anne Berleant

Town meeting is called for Monday, March 4, at the Penobscot Community School, with elections from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Voters will reconvene on Tuesday, March 5, at 7 p.m. for school warrant articles, followed by municipal articles.

A spaghetti dinner, sponsored by the school’s P.T.F., will precede town meeting, from 5 to 6 p.m.

Proposed town budget up $28,000

Selectmen will propose a $492,651 municipal budget, an increase of $28,320, or about 6 percent, from the current budget of $464,331.

“It’s what we feel is necessary for the town to operate over the next year,” said Chairman of Selectmen Paul Bowen in a recent phone call.

Of that total, $227,022 is slated to be raised from taxation or appropriated from surplus funds. The remainder will come from collected excise tax and other monies returned from the state for a variety of reasons.

The increase mainly results from two requests.

First is $8,000 to construct a permanent fishway at Wight Pond (Article 48).

“We’re obligated by state law to manage this resource,” Bowen said. “And the consensus in the community has been for a long time to do our part to maintain fisheries, to provide a fishery for local folk.”

The alewive run at Wight Pond was halted by the theft of a fish ladder that alewives use to swim over a dam. “The Department of Marine Resources has indicated they will provide us with a fish ladder if we provide them with the cost of installing it,” said Bowen.

The town hopes to secure matching grant money to help cover the installation cost.

The second new request is to add $10,000 to shore up the town’s reserve for legal and professional services (article 51), depleted by legal fees totaling around $8,000 used to represent the town’s interest in Penobscot Nursing Home. The reserve account’s current balance is $4,700.

In addition, a proposed $25,000 addition to the fire truck reserve account is $5,000 more than last year, and $1,000 is requested for the cemetery restoration fund to repair gravestones.

The proposed budget includes the usual requests from area agencies, societies and charities, totaling $31,221; the Finance Committee recommends granting $28,708 toward those requests, which include a first-time request from the Tree of Life in Blue Hill. The food pantry asks for $1,175, based on its record of Penobscot citizen use in 2012. The Finance Committee recommends approving that request.

Also on the warrant is Article 46, which asks for a vote to change the name of the ZIGZAG Ballfield on the New Road to the Jim Henry Ballfield.

Secondary tuition spikes school budget

Voters will weigh in on a $1,582,784 school budget for 2013-14, as proposed by the school board and recommended by the town finance committee.

This represents a 4.75 percent or $71,773 increase over the current budget of $1,511.011.

“The story is six more kids in high school,” said Superintendent Mark Hurvitt. “There really isn’t any daylight there, unless you start cutting programs.”

Total secondary tuition costs are budgeted at $468,651, a 15.5 percent or $61,293 increase over this year—which itself saw a nearly $25,000 increase from 2011-12.

“Student tuition really killed us,” said School Board Chairman Gerald Markley.

Penobscot pays $9,317 per student attending George Stevens Academy or Blue Hill Harbor School, plus a 5 percent insured value factor (IVF), a surcharge intended to cover depreciation of private schools’ buildings.

For the 43 GSA and two BHHS students in 2013-14, plus one “extra” tuition as a cushion, that surcharge totals $21,429. Markley said attending school in Blue Hill makes sense geographically. And Penobscot has traditionally sent its kids to GSA, noted Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Paul Bowen, despite the extra cost. Two students have elected to attend Bucksport High School next year, where that 5 percent IVF surcharge is not incurred.

Teacher and staff salary increases are at 2 percent, and the 4.24 percent or $19,462 rise in elementary education programs mainly comes from teacher health insurance changes allowed under contract.

While some new costs are included in the budget, they are offset by decreases in special education (15.5 percent or $17,406) and operations and maintenance (6.1 percent or $7,835).

Separate warrant articles ask voters to approve the use of a $20,000 parking lot reserve fund and for an additional $30,838 from the town to complete an expansion project to the school parking lot.

“I consider the parking lot a security/safety issue and I’d like to see it completed,” Markley said.

In addition, articles request $5,000 for the school bus reserve account, $1,000 for the computer replacement reserve and $1,155 to the building repairs reserve.