Final Atkinson deorganization vote will be Nov. 6

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ATKINSON — On Tuesday, Nov. 6 Atkinson residents will be heading to the polls for a final vote on deorganization, which if passed would go into effect on July 1, 2019 with the municipality becoming part of the Pisctaquis County Unorganized Territory (UT). The town hall will be open for the referendum from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. that day. Residents will also be voting on a question asking if the town shall withdraw from SAD 41.

“SAD 41 withdrawal does go hand-in-hand with deorganization,” Atkinson Select Chair Mark Kinney said during an Oct. 23 public hearing at the town hall.

“I think the biggest thing everyone should know is if you are for deorganization, you have got to withdraw from the school system,” Selectman Sam Andrews added.

Kinney said schools are the first part of the deorganization plan, as educational opportunities and rising municipal costs have been cited as the reasons to deorganize throughout the process. Should Atkinson citizens vote to deorganize then students will attend RSU 68/Foxcroft Academy, with educational costs coming from a state UT fund paid into by residents of UTs across Maine.

Atkinson secondary students may obtain prior approval from the director of the state schools to go to another high school, but these pupils would be responsible for their own transportation and tuition costs and tuition shall not exceed statutory limits. Students will have the right to attend SAD 41 schools for an additional year.

Atkinson will need to make a one-time $275,000 payment to SAD 41 as of early April, and the town will be responsible for 10.5 percent (its share as the smallest of the four district communities) of any incurred prior to the date of withdrawal. SAD 41 will pay Atkinson 10.45 percent of its undesignated fund balance as of June 30 and the community will cover 10.45 percent of the salary for the superintendent and curriculum coordinator for the remainder of their contacts.

“If the town votes to choose not to deorganize but votes to get out of the school district then you become your own school unit,” Kinney said. He said the projection for next year is the town will have 15 students across all grades.

Under this scenario, Atkinson would be responsible for 10.45 percent of any debt incurred and would need its own part-time superintendent. Students would have the option to be tuitioned to SAD 41 or attend RSU 68/Foxcroft Academy with the town responsible for busing costs both east and west. Atkinson would also cover special education expenses.

An affirmative vote on school deorganization must be made in order for the state to accept Atkinson into the UT. Two thirds of voters must be in favor of the withdrawal and at least 50 percent of the votes cast in the 2014 gubernatorial election must turn out. The 2014 turnout was 172, so at least 86 residents must submit ballots for Nov. 6 and of these at least 57 would have to vote “yes.”

Should deorganization pass on Nov. 6, town officials plan to sell the town hall and sand lot. McCorrison Road would be closed to all but recreational traffic. Taking these actions would prevent the county from taking on the associated expenses.

“Even if we vote to deorganize there will be a town meeting in March to handle the business from February to June,” Andrews said.

After the mid-March annual town meeting, residents would receive a final municipal tax bill for Feb. 1, 2019 to July 1 of next year. These taxes will cover school withdrawal costs, mapping software required by the state, administrative expenses, and a final audit.

Should Atkinson become part of the Piscataquis County UT, then the state will reevaluate the town. The current municipal mill rate is $22.80 and the 2017 UT mill rate was $6.22. As a UT tax monies go toward county taxes and services from the county and services from the state, such as education, land management, and health and human services. State service expenses are shared with other Maine UTs.

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