August 02, 2020

SAD 53 voters heading back to polls

PITTSFIELD — Voters in the SAD 53 towns of Burnham, Detroit and Pittsfield will be heading back to the polls in July to act again on the 1993-94 school budget.

Superintendent Terry McCannell has tentatively set July 27 for the next budget referendum. Voters defeated the budget proposal at the district’s first-ever budget referendum June 14.

“For the convenience, expedience and cost of citizens, our first consideration was to have a budget meeting,” McCannell said. “It would be less expense for the towns and the district, and be held in a timely manner to allow the towns to get their tax bills out.”

Current statute permits districts to revert to the district budget meeting format if a budget fails by referendum. Emergency legislation signed last week by Gov. John R. McKernan was the deciding factor.

The legislation as originally proposed would have required the district to return to the referendum format, if the first referendum failed. The final bill that received the governor’s signature allowed an alternative. The new legislation allows 30 days to hold a budget meeting if a referendum vote fails or 45 days to hold a new referendum.

Faced with summer vacations and shutdowns of local businesses, McCannell and board Chairman Mindy Loveitt believed the budget would receive better representation, for or against, in a referendum vote. To hold a budget meeting, the latest date would have been July 14 under the new legislation. Tentatively working with a July 13 date, McCannell became aware of a large number of people who would not be available for a budget meeting, including board members. The new date, July 27, extends the time period and allows townspeople to vote by absentee ballot, if necessary.

“I personally regret going to referendum again,” he said. “It is an additional expense for the towns and the district. I’m halfway through the summer without a budget. And it puts the towns in a difficult position with tax billing.”

The good news, McCannell said, is the new referendum ballot will carry the revised figures of the Education Committee’s proposal for state subsidies. Current reports indicate the budget proposal intended for the Legislature carries $515 million in education funding, an increase over the governor’s budget proposal.

The June 14 referendum was based on the governor’s budget plan with a substantial loss in state revenue for the three town district. With the earlier plan, local voters were being asked to fund a $150,000 increase in the expenditure budget and a $374,000 loss in state subsidy. Less than a week before the referendum, McCannell learned the Education Committee’s plan will increase the state subsidy by $265,769, and decrease the amount to be raised by local taxes the same amount.

The SAD 53 board of directors will meet at 7:30 p.m. Monday, June 28, at the Warsaw Middle School Library to act on the budget referendum and to consider revisions to the budget.

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