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Limestone town meeting took 2 days as fed-up residents slashed budgets

LIMESTONE, Maine — Residents at the annual town meeting dug their heels in on proposed budgets they said were too high, even threatening to vote for zero dollars for the school if the board did not agree to tighten its purse strings.

The meeting began Wednesday evening but had to be continued to Thursday evening because of the amount of discussion on each item that showed an increase in spending. Moderator Paul Durepo ended Wednesday’s meeting at 9 pm

It was clear at both sessions that residents were divided on how much the town should spend on certain departments, and whether some services were merely “wants” instead of necessities. Residents said that municipal and school-based taxes have increased over the years because of proposed budgets that are too high in the first place.

The Limestone Community School budget was the most controversial discussion, with most residents voting to send the $4,435,138 budget back to the school board for review. Last year’s budget was $3,699,035.

Several residents agreed to vote for zero dollars when the article came up concerning regular instruction, with a cost of $1.7 million more than $1.3 million last year. They told school board members to tighten what they saw as an inflated budget.

“This is a too extravagant budget for a small community,” Chuck Kelly said. “We don’t want to close the school; we just want you to go back and find a price that’s agreeable.”

When school board member Kathie Beaulieu asked Kelly and other residents what they meant by “extravagant,” no one offered specific cuts but asked the board to lower the overall price tag.

Beaulieu and several school board and staff members said they had already spent months combing through the budget and had proposed what they believed to be most affordable, given the rising prices of electricity, fuel and oil as well as increases in teacher salaries, per a union agreement, and in tuition needed to send high school students to Caribou and Fort Fairfield.

Debt service from an RSU 39 bond to build Caribou Community School makes the total budget appear higher than it is, Superintendent William Dobbins said. The state requires Limestone Community School to show the debt service on the budget because Limestone was still part of the Caribou school district (RSU 39) when they voted to build the new Caribou Community School, he said.

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