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Mount Abe offers lower tax rates in third try to get budget passed

BRISTOL — If voters in the five towns of the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union approve of the latest spending proposal for Mount Abraham Union High School, residents in those towns will see the high school portion of their education property tax rates go down, according to district officials.
The vote on the proposed $13,947,738 spending plan for fiscal year 2015-2016 will take place Tuesday, June 9, in Bristol, Monkton, Starksboro, Lincoln and New Haven. The proposal reflects a 1.02 percent decrease compared to the current spending plan.
It will be the third vote on a Mount Abe budget for the year that begins July 1. Local voters on Town Meeting Day defeated an initial spending plan of $14,068,551 by a 1,241-1,088 tally. That budget represented a $32,753 reduction in spending compared to the current year’s spending plan.
Mount Abe directors cut $36,000 from that failed initial budget before delivering it to voters on April 14. But residents rejected that revised $14.02 million spending plan by a 755 to 485 margin.
Board members again pored over the budget and on May 22 warned the $13,947,738 spending plan, which is $75,000 less than the version that failed in April. They said they’ve found these additional savings through improving energy efficiency, closing outbuildings and bringing those classrooms into the main building, and by “Restructuring alternative education opportunities.”
As ANeSU voters go to the polls, residents in the five communities in the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union will also be voting for the third time this year on the spending plan for their high school — Vergennes Union High School (See story on Page 1A).
Yet another school also faces its third budget vote of the year: Bristol residents on June 16 will vote on a $4.9 million Bristol Elementary School spending plan. Bristol school directors will host information meetings on that budget proposal on June 6, 9 a.m., Holley Hall; June 8, 5:30 p.m., Bristol Elementary library; and June 12, 8:15 a.m., Bristol Elementary art room.
Mount Abe board members have been trying to educate the ANeSU public about their budget proposal, including making available on the school website a flier explaining the spending plan. An informational meeting is scheduled for Monday at 7 p.m. in the Mount Abe small cafeteria.
The school board this week also fielded another curve ball when Mount Abe Principal Gaynell Lyman tendered her resignation in order to pursue another career opportunity (See story on Page 2A).
Board members hope that residents understand that the budget before them on Tuesday has nothing to do with the $30 million school renovations proposal that was soundly rejected last November. School board member Kris Pearsall wrote on Front Porch Forum, “This vote is for the budget to operate the school for the upcoming 2015/2016 school year. It is NOT about renovating the school — that is a totally separate matter which has been tabled for the near future.”
ANeSU Chief Financial Officer Howard Mansfield has calculated the tax rates for the Mount Abraham portion of the education tax rates in the five towns. These rates do not include that portion of the tax rates that will support the elementary schools in each town. If Tuesday’s vote is in the affirmative, the rate in each town would be:
• Bristol: $0.8531, which is a decrease of 4.2 cents from the current year.
For a home assessed at $200,000 that is a decrease of $84 in taxes.
• Lincoln: $0.6473, which is a decrease of 2.23 cents from the current year.
For a home assessed at $200,000 that is a decrease of $44.60 in taxes.
• Monkton: $0.9707, which is a decrease of 2.84 cents from the current year.
For a home assessed at $200,000 that is a decrease of $56.80 in taxes.
• New Haven: $0.9100, which is a decrease of 0.88 cents from the current year.
For a home assessed at $200,000 that is a decrease of $17.60 in taxes.
• Starksboro: $0.7789, which is a decrease of 3.29 cents from the current year.
For a home assessed at $200,000 that is a decrease of $65.80 in taxes.
The flyer also shows that the new budget proposal represents a 4.3 percent decrease in salaries and benefits for next year compared to the current year. The total spending proposed for professional and support staff is $7,509,820.
Spending on “purchased services” and “other services” would go up. The budget for purchased services — for such things as the ANeSU assessment, a school-based clinician and conferences — would rise 1.1 percent to $3,564,589. Other service  — which encompasses insurance, tuition to other schools, printing, postage, Internet and telephone — would rise 13.8 percent to $1,226,762.
If the school budget fails on Tuesday, board members may be in a quandary over what to do next, as some in the community have said there have been mixed messages from voters — some say they just can’t afford the school taxes and some say they want to spend more to improve the education district children receive.
The other issue that administrators could face is cash flow. A school district that does not have an approved budget by the beginning of the fiscal year, July 1, is allowed by state law to borrow up to 87 percent of the previous year’s budget. Mansfield said the district would be fine for the first month, but things could get more difficult to manage after that.
Bristol Town Clerk Jen Myers said absentee ballots are available for both the Mount Abe budget revote and the Bristol Elementary School budget revote.
See also: Jackie Nienow, favorite of students, retires from Mary Hogan School

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