Budget passed, middle school question voted on at Trenton Town Meeting

TRENTON — The town held its annual meeting in late Dec. at the Trenton Fire Station and via Zoom, following an election of selectmen and School Committee members.

During the meeting, which was moderated by Selectman John Bennett, the town voted to approve its fiscal year 2021-22 municipal budget of $915,000. This is in addition to the $4,321,885 school budget that was approved by voters at a special town meeting in October.

The increase in the municipal budget is 2 percent, according to Board of Selectmen Chairman Fred Ehrlenbach. That does not include the county tax assessment, which increased to $153,330, according to Town Clerk Carol Walsh

At the polls, Ehrlenbach was re-elected with 44 votes and Daniel Monahan was newly elected with 45 votes. Incumbent Mark Remick was not re-elected after receiving 42 votes.

School Committee Chairwoman Jennifer Bonilla was re-elected after receiving 65 votes.

In addition to electing board members, the town voted on a referendum question from the Mount Desert Island Regional School System’s (MDIRSS) Superintendent’s Office.

The straw poll question, worded as “Are you in favor of the Trenton School Committee continuing planning efforts for a combined, districtwide middle school?” was initially posed last year before the pandemic.

The town voted in favor of continuing the planning efforts 41-34.

In an interview with The American last Wednesday, Bonilla said the decision to bring the question to MDIRSS towns was so that school officials could gauge whether there was community support as school boards put time and energy into planning a potential middle school.

“Let’s ask the towns if this is something they would like us to continue doing,” Bonilla said.

All towns in the MDIRSS have voted to allow the district’s school committees to continue their planning and research, Bonilla said. Further planning will include conducting studies, looking at possible sites, tracking costs and setting up a timeframe.

Bonilla explained the major reasons for consolidating are to provide students with better extracurricular experiences, teachers with more support, consolidate budget items (instead of providing resources for several different schools) and prepare students for being in a larger setting at the already-consolidated Mount Desert Island High School.

“We just feel that consolidating…might just really help the teachers, the budgets, the students and the towns,” Bonilla said.

Following the Town Meeting, the selectmen met for their regularly scheduled meeting, where Susan Sargent, chairwoman of the School Evaluations Options Committee (SEOC), asked the selectmen what steps they would like to see the SEOC take next.

The SEOC is a group of Trenton residents who researched and reported on cost-saving options the school district could potentially pursue. The group was formed over concerns with the town’s raising property taxes.

“I’d like to have you come up with a recommendation,” said Ehrlenbach.

In its report, the SEOC came up with four options but has yet to make a recommendation to the selectmen for how best to proceed. Sargent said the committee would have a recommendation for the selectmen’s next meeting on Dec. 29.

Regarding how the SEOC feels about continuing plans for a districtwide middle school, Sargent told The American it is still unclear what the costs will be to continue the plans and where such a school would be located.

Sargent predicts a districtwide middle school could increase costs.

“Not only would we be paying tuition for high school students, we would be paying tuition for middle school students. That’s going to increase our bussing,” she said.

The selectmen also discussed the end of a surcharge that was placed on tuition for Trenton students when MDI High School expanded in 2000. The surcharge was designed to pay down the debt service from that project.

Nancy Thurlow, the business manager in the Superintendent’s Office, said the renovations were needed to accommodate all students anticipated to enroll at the school.

All towns that pay tuition for their students to attend MDI High School have had to pay the debt service, she said, adding that the 2021-22 academic year will be the first year that the tuition towns will not have to pay the surcharge.

Additionally, the selectmen discussed the School Committee’s decision last week to include in its budget plans to repair the school’s roof and incorporate solar energy.

Trenton resident Michael Gilmartin attended the meeting and recapped the selectmen on the letter he wrote to School Committee members last week urging them to address the school’s roofing issues and the opportunity to include solar energy.

He asked if the selectmen would be willing to approve the budget item for the roof and solar project if the School Committee included it in its 2021-22 budget.

The selectmen unanimously agreed it was a priority, especially since it is an issue that has been discussed for the last few years.

Rebecca Alley

Rebecca Alley

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Rebecca is the Schoodic-area reporter and covers the towns of Eastbrook, Franklin, Hancock, Lamoine, Sorrento, Sullivan, Waltham, Winter Harbor and Trenton. She lives in Ellsworth with her husband and baby boy who was joyously welcomed in June 2020. Feel free to send tips and story ideas to [email protected]

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