July 13, 2020

Town votes to raise $1 for school budget

WHITNEYVILLE – Tired of paying the highest mill rate in the state toward education, residents voted to raise a symbolic single dollar toward the town’s additional local funds for their school budget at their annual town meeting on Tuesday.

The selectmen and the superintendent for Union 102 had recommended the town raise $27,000, which would go toward the school budget surplus account.

But resident Nate Pennell made a motion to put forward just $1 this year – because there already is $94,000 in the surplus account.

Residents learned last spring, when town officials explored the possibilities of deorganizing, that Whitneyville was raising more mills for education than any other of the state’s 400-plus towns – 23.45 out of the town’s overall mill rate of more than 28 mills per $1,000 in valuation.

The town voted 52 to 46 on Sept. 14 to end the deorganization process. There are 254 residents in the bedroom community for Machias, where the town’s 32 students are schooled.

“I’ve been watching the school surplus account rise for some time,” Pennell said on Wednesday. “The superintendent [Scott Porter] said that’s the way we budget, and people have gone along with it.

“Having been told by the state that we had the highest mill rate for education should have been a clue that there’s something wrong here.”

Pennell’s motion from the floor resulted in residents voting in a secret ballot 24-22 to raise just $1 rather than the $27,000.

“If the town has to come back for another meeting in April or so to raise more money to make the school budget balance, then we can do that,” he said. “My suspicion is that the town will end up in June with a [school] surplus, although it won’t be the $94,000 they have now.”

Pennell estimated his motion would help reduce the mills dedicated to education closer to 8 or 9 mills.

The full meeting, which drew 47 residents, lasted five minutes short of four hours. Richard Larson of Machias served as the moderator.

In other business, the town voted to organize both a sewer commission and a comprehensive plan committee.

Residents tabled a warrant item that would have closed the Hillgrove Community Building, which serves as the town office, from December to February to save on heating costs.

The panel of selectmen remained intact. The one whose term was up, Patricia Dowling, was re-elected by a 26-14 vote over David Daniels.

She rejoins Les Gardner and Henry Dowling on the board.

Many were pleased to see Henry Dowling at the meeting, as he suffered a stroke last month and has been recovering both in Bangor and more recently, in Machias. His son brought him to stay for an hour, and he indicated that he will be attending selectmen’s meetings again.

Town Clerk Pam Dowling retains her position after being voted back in, 28-10, over Brenda Emery.

In a vote for the deputy fire warden position, Sammy Dowling defeated Skipper Pennell, 20-12. For the code enforcement officer position, Stanley Mitchell of Addison was elected 18-12 over Barry McDonald.

For town sexton, Jeffrey Robicheau Sr. won over Harrison Dowling, 16-8.

Debbie Getchell was re-elected without a contest for her three-year seat on the school board.

No one stood for the open assessor’s position, so the moderator called for volunteers. Terri Wright, who knows accounting and bookkeeping, agreed to serve in her first experience as a town official.

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