TRENTON — Voters at Town Meeting here Tuesday night approved a $3.97 million school budget for next year that will increase property taxes by 11.17 percent, or about $109 per $100,000 of valuation.
The vote was 97-29.
In a separate vote, residents authorized spending $50,000 to continue the school’s pre-kindergarten program for a second year. Principal Mike Zboray said the federal Head Start program pays about $60,000 for the program.
The town’s appropriation for pre-K will increase property taxes by another 1.7 percent for a total of about $125.50 per $100,000 of valuation.
Earlier in the meeting, residents voted 69-62 to reject a recommendation from the Trenton School Committee and Superintendent Marc Gousse to reduce the tax burden by borrowing $75,000 from the school district’s special education reserve fund. Selectman Mark Remick made the motion to raise taxes rather than tap the reserve fund, saying he was opposed to borrowing money to pay for school operations.
If the reserve fund had been accessed, the school would have had to pay back 20 percent of the balance each year with interest each year until it was paid off. The interest rate on the first $15,000 payment, which would have been due in November 2012, would have been 0.4 percent.
Several residents at town meeting said they appreciated the school committee’s effort to keep taxes from going any higher than necessary, but they would rather pay the $75,000 from taxes this coming year instead of going into debt.
Several factors contributed to the big increase in next year’s school budget, which is $424,188 larger than the budget for the current year. One of those factors is the spike in expenditures for special education, including the placement of a special-needs child in an out-of-district facility. Gousse emphasized that such expenditures are non-negotiable.
“Those programs and resources are mandated federally, and we don’t get a choice,” he said. “If the funds aren’t appropriated [by the town] the [special education] services will be delivered, and they will be delivered at the expense of other programs that aren’t mandated.”
The school budget covers not only the operation and maintenance of Trenton Elementary School, but tuition payments for Trenton residents attending high school on Mount Desert Island or in Ellsworth, and Trenton’s share of the cost of school system operations.
Zboray said all 16 pre-K slots were filled this year and that 16 children have already signed up for next year. All of the 4-year-olds in pre-K are Trenton residents.
Voters at Town Meeting approved a “general government” budget for next year of $338,370, all of which will be taken from excise tax revenues.
In secret-ballot voting on Monday, Rachel Nobel was elected to a three-year term on the Board of Selectmen. She ran unopposed.
Darcy Throckmorton, who ran unopposed, and Tom Reeve, a write-in candidate, were elected to two open seats on the town’s school committee.