May 23, 2019

School concerns aired in Orland Residents approve $3M education budget at annual town meeting

ORLAND – Questions about school consolidation plans and a proposed contract for superintendent services surrounded discussion of the school budget Tuesday at the annual town meeting.

But despite concerns about the future, residents approved the $3 million school budget and all other items on the town meeting warrant.

The questions arose during discussion of the school budget line item for the superintendent’s office. Resident Russell Field asked when the proposal from Gov. Baldacci to consolidate school superintendents throughout the state will go into effect.

Superintendent Allen Snell explained that there are a number of proposals under review by state legislators at this time, many with different dates for implementation.

State Sen. Richard Rosen said specific information about how and when consolidation will take place is not yet available. Rosen estimated it will several weeks of intense discussions to reach a decision on a plan.

Residents also raised questions about a proposed contract between the Orland and Bucksport school departments by which Bucksport would provide superintendent and other administrative services for the Orland schools. The contract has been negotiated, and the associated costs are included in the school budget.

Bucksport councilors have raised some concerns about the proposal, and one Orland resident asked what would happen if Bucksport rejects the contract.

In that event, Snell said, the school committee would have to find an interim superintendent. Although Snell will become the superintendent in Orrington at the end of the year, he said he felt a “personal obligation” to the school and has offered to serve as a part-time superintendent if the need arises.

Both the Orland and Bucksport school committees are scheduled to act on the contract at their regular meetings this month.

Residents agreed to allocate $5,000 for the Great Pond Mountain Trust. The trust is nearing the end of a $2.86 million fund-raising campaign, with $275,000 remaining to reach its goal, according to Cherie Domina, administrative director for the trust. The fundraising effort will help pay for the 4,200-acre parcel off Route 1 the trust purchased last year.

The selectmen had recommended against funding the trust’s request. Selectman Wayne Ames explained that although the three selectmen support what the trust is trying to do, they did not feel it was proper to use tax dollars to support the organization.

Ames said the trust has placed most of the property under Tree Growth, which reduces the tax assessment on that land. That Tree Growth designation decreases the tax paid to the town by about $5,000 per year, he said, most of which is not reimbursed by the state.

Supporters argued that the town receives benefits from having that property preserved. Robert Mushrall said the property is open to the public and that many people from Orland and surrounding towns use the trails regularly. He urged residents to support the funding, noting that the trust is preserving the land for the future.

“This is something your kids, the town and other towns in Hancock County are going to benefit from forever,” he said.

Domina pointed out that even with the property in Tree Growth, the trust pays more than $6,000 in taxes to the town. In addition, she said, conservation of the 4,200 acres provides other benefits to the town, protecting the watershed area for Hot Hole Pond and Alamoosook Lake. It also brings people to the town who will spend money with local businesses, she said.

The trust’s ownership also prevents development on the property, Domina said.

Voters approved the funding by a wide margin but rejected a suggestion to reduce funding for the Bucksport Bay Area Chamber of Commerce in order to offset that expense.

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