Dresden voters rejected the RSU 2 budget at the polls on Tuesday, June 8, however, the budget was passed by a slim majority of the district.
The majority of Dresden voters rejected the budget 145-59, joining Monmouth and Farmingdale. The budget was approved by majorities in the district’s other two towns, Hallowell and Richmond. The budget passed 944-893, a margin of 51 votes.
The budget totals over $32.6 million, an increase of $985,149.92 or 3.12% from the previous fiscal year. Dresden’s share totals $1,924,948.04, an increase of $155,721.92 or 8.8%.
Both the Dresden Board of Selectmen and the Dresden Budget Review Committee came out against the budget and distributed flyers to the community advising citizens to vote no on the budget prior to the election. The select board voted to create a withdrawal committee to explore the possibility of leaving the school district on May 25.
In a phone interview on Thursday, June 10, Dresden Second Selectman Gerald Lilly said he didn’t have a reaction to the budget outcome, and said that selectmen would move forward with appointing members to the withdrawal committee.
“We just thought it was too high,” Lilly said. “Obviously people in Farmingdale and Monmouth agreed with us.”
At an informational budget meeting on June 2 with Dresden Elementary School Principal Sara Derosby, RSU 2 Superintendent Tonya Arnold said that the budget is “frugal and fiscally responsible,” and that a 3% overall budget increase is not out of the norm in other districts.
“The way the RSU has kept the budget low is by continually trimming … positions, and we did trim some positions this year,” Arnold said. “We’ve trimmed and trimmed and we’re down to the muscle and bone.”
In a statement attached to the district’s budget summary, Arnold wrote that the increase provides for various needs, including maintaining staff, insurance premium increases, obligated salary increases due to contracts and an increased minimum wage, as well as the additions of a full-time nurse to Dresden Elementary School.
In the June 2 meeting, she said that if additional cuts were made that they would have to be more “programmatic.”
Arnold acknowledged that selectmen in some of the district’s towns have called for more cuts to the budget, without naming any in particular, but said that if the supplemental budget Gov. Janet Mills proposed in May passes, the amount that would be covered by the new funding exceeds the amount that officials have asked to be cut from the RSU’s budget.
Mills’ proposed budget would meet the state’s obligation to pay 55% of local education costs for the first time with an additional $187 million in funding. The plan would also increase revenue sharing to municipalities from 3.75% to 5% possibly relieving pressure on property tax payers.
“So the warrants that we hope pass on June 8 will be in stone and we’ll start them, but then we’ll have a vote in November that adjusts it so that towns will pay less,” Arnold said on June 2.
In an email sent Thursday, June 10, Arnold said the district administration communicated more frequently and in more ways with voters and town officials during the budget development process than in past years and restated her anticipation of reductions of costs allocated to towns based on the governor’s budget.
“We heard the concern about the financial impact that the pandemic had on some families and concerns about those on fixed income,” Arnold said in the email. “We were sensitive to those concerns in developing the budget while considering the needs of our students in the coming year.”
Voters reelected First Selectman John Rzasa to a three-year term on the board. Rzasa won a four-way race for a one-year term in July 2020, after the previous first selectman resigned. Rzasa received 177 votes in an uncontested bid.
Incumbent Kathryn Marseglia was reelected to a three-year term on the RSU 2 school board, receiving 127 votes. Challenger Scott Silverman received 70 votes.
A total of 218 Dresden residents voted in the election.