RSU 71 budget referendum contains error, voting pushed to August 18

Wed, 07/08/2020 - 5:45pm

    RSU 71 Superintendent Mary Alice McLean said July 8 that district attorneys at Drummond Woodsum learned the referendum documents that the firm had prepared for approving the 2020-2021 School Budget for RSU 71 contained, “a very serious error.”

    The district held an emergency board meeting July 7 via Zoom, at which time the board voted to rescind the Budget Referendum that had been scheduled for July 14 and to schedule a new Budget Referendum for Tuesday, August 18.

    The School Board also voted to hold a new Budget Hearing for Tuesday, August 4, 2020, at 5:30 p.m. via ZOOM in order to provide another opportunity for members of the public to share feedback and make public comments about the FY 2021 Proposed School Budget. 

    The mail-in ballots that have been received by the City of Belfast and the Towns of Swanville, Belmont, Morrill, and Searsmont will, with regard to the RSU 71 referendum, be null and void. All the state and local votes ballots will remain valid. Citizens will have an opportunity to vote on the proposed school budget -- which has not changed -- by absentee ballot or in-person on Tuesday, August 18. 

    The Drummond Woodsum memo to the school district follows:

    MEMORANDUM July 2, 2020 

    TO: Mary Alice McLean, Superintendent 

    Regional School Unit No. 71 

    FROM: Aga Dixon & Bill Stockmeyer 

    Drummond Woodsum 

    RE: Process to Correct Budget Referendum 

    It has come to our attention that the referendum documents that our firm prepared for approving your 2020-2021 school budget contain an error. 

    Specifically, Question 1 asks the voters to authorize a total school budget in the amount of $28,268,293.67 and local taxes to be raised in the amount of $10,092,756.66. In fact, and as presented in the separate articles at the remote public hearing and at other budget presentations, $15,508,779.71 must be raised to support this school budget. Question 1 includes only the tax amount in Article 12 as presented at the public hearing, rather the correct amount, which is the sum of Article 12 (local tax revenues - $10,092,756.66), Article 13 (debt service payments - $1,377,853.46), and Article 14 (additional local funds - $4,038,169.59). 

    Unfortunately, it does not appear that this error can be cured ahead of the scheduled July 14 referendum because it is too late to correct the warrants and because absentee ballots have already gone out. If Question 1 were adopted as written, the RSU would have a significant revenue shortfall for the upcoming school year. For these reasons, we recommend that the school board meet as soon as possible to cancel July 14 budget referendum, and that a new budget approval process be scheduled. 

    Between now and that school board meeting, we recommend that school administrators and personnel do the following: 

    1. Notify each of the municipal clerks that the July 14 school budget referendum is cancelled, ask the clerks to impound the ballots, the warrants, and any returned absentee ballots, and ask them not to distribute any further ballots for this referendum, either absentee ballots or ballots on July 14. 
    1. The RSU should direct its resident to pick up the impounded ballots, warrants, and returned absentee ballots, and return them to the Superintendent to secure and retain them as a public record. The clerks may retain copies for the municipality’s records. 
    1. The RSU must schedule a school board meeting as soon as possible to (i) rescind the  July 14 school budget Warrant and Notice of Election; and (ii) reschedule a budget hearing and budget referendum. The RSU should notify the voters of the cancellation and rescheduling of the July 14 school budget referendum by posting notice of the cancellation on its website as soon as possible after the school board meeting. 
    1. Please advise us of (i) the date of the school board meeting, (ii) the new date of the referendum, and (iii) the new date of the public hearing. The referendum should be approximately 5-6 weeks after the date the board meets. The hearing must be at least 7 days before the referendum. Sample dates might be July 7 for the board meeting, August 18 (no earlier than August 18) for the referendum and August 4-11 (no later than August 11) for the public hearing. Please also advise us of (iv) the proposed polling hours for each municipal voting district. Because the newly scheduled referendum will be held on a non-statewide voting date, the municipalities may prefer shorter polling hours. Polls in towns need only be open for at least 4 consecutive hours. 

    With the information in item 4 above, we will prepare the necessary documents for the rescheduled budget process, to be signed at the school board meeting. 

    We would like to be clear that we take full responsibility for this error and offer our most sincere apologies to you and everyone who will be inconvenienced. 

    If you have questions about this process, please do not hesitate to contact us.