2015-12-16 / Front Page

Lisbon council OKs 5th school budget

Possible compromise with school panel in the works
BY DARCIE MOORE
Times Record Staff

LISBON

The Lisbon Town Council approved a fifth 2015-16 school budget by a 4-3 vote on Tuesday night that councilors expect will again be rejected by voters next month, but still there was light at the end of the tunnel.

The council approved a $15,188,724 spending plan; but not before the chairman said he thinks the council and school committee can come to an agreed budget if it comes to a sixth referendum. The school committee again recommended a $15,272,598 spending plan for 2015-16.

Time and again since May, the council has sent to voters spending plans in an amount less than recommended by the school committee. Every one of those plans had been rejected by voters in a series of budget validation referendums.

The council was displeased the school committee didn’t meet its directive to cut $600,000 in additional local funds, and disagreed with the school committee’s initial proposed use of bond proceeds from the gym and track project to offset taxes.

Meanwhile, school committee members and supporters of their budget recommendations have questioned the council about why the council issued the $600,000 mandate after voters approved two school project bonds and expressed satisfaction that the initial budget proposed by the school committee in May would have kept taxes flat.

Lisbon resident and former councilor Fern Larochelle was the lone speaker during the public hearing Tuesday night.

“I think hopefully tonight and with the new councilors here, that we can actually look at this school issue tonight and actually have an honest discussion and have some dialogue on it,” Larochelle said. “I would really hate to think this goes back out to vote the same way it’s done the last three without making actually changes. I think, number-wise, it’s actually pretty close.”

Less than $100,000 separates the town’s proposed budget and what is recommended by the school committee.

“I would just hope the town and school can work together to figure out where that money will come from,” Larochelle said.

He hoped the town wouldn’t have to spend another $3,000 to start the process all over and hold a sixth budget validation referendum.

Council Chairman Roger Bickford said before council deliberations on the school budget that he and the chairwoman of the school committee, Traci Austin, have been in discussions which he has found very promising.

“Very shortly, I think we can come to some agreement to make things good,” Bickford said.

The ballots have already been printed and, “I don’t want to expend the cost to redo it,” Bickford said. Even if the council did that, it would give them only one day to negotiate at this point.

He will let the Jan. 12, 2016, referendum vote fall where it will. After the vote, Bickford said he is going to call a couple of workshops for the school committee and town council “to see if we can hash out and get this thing settled once and for all.”

He said he thinks there is a way to fix the problem but there is no way he can do it now.

There is a difference of $83,874 between the school committee budget recommendation and the budget the council approved Tuesday.

Bickford said after the meeting he thinks there are solutions to bridging that $83,000 gap without spending more taxpayer money. He said he still needs more information and hasn’t had time to share this plan with the entire council so it can consider the options in good faith.

Going forward Bickford also said Tuesday regarding development of a new school budget that he plans to have a subcommittee with two or three councilors to sit in with the school committee so everyone is on the same page.

“I just don’t want this to happen,” he said.

If the budget is voted down Jan. 12, a sixth referendum could be held in late March.

dmoore@timesrecord.com

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