Berkowitz to tax-shifting lawmakers: ‘Stop this insanity’

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Forcing SAD 61 taxpayers to pay 100% of teachers’ retirement pensions is like adding insult to injury, and it has got to stop.

That’s the essence of the message in a letter to Maine House and Senate members drafted by Bridgton Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz, authorized by the Bridgton Board of Selectmen. Berkowitz said SAD 61’s per-pupil transportation costs “far exceed” urban and metro areas, due to the district’s large geographic area.

“When this formula is used to determine prior year essential program and services support, once again we came up short and had to make up the difference at the expense of our local taxpayers,” Berkowitz wrote.

“Added to this insult, the decision to require the state’s share of the Teacher Retirement System, our M.S.A.D. had to absorb 100% of this cost, or over $357,000 — while we see the urban and metro regions faring far better, with shares below 60%.”

The impact is forcing Bridgton to raise the local tax rate by at least 56 cents per $1,000 of valuation, “which represents a minimum increase of 4% — before we attempt to meet our local (budget) requirements for FY 2014,” he said.

SAD 61 has an average per-pupil cost of $10,000 per student, “and we have at least nine students who may opt to transfer to a charter school, for which we will become 100% responsible,” said Berkowitz. That’s $90,000 that will leave Bridgton, “leaving fewer dollars for the very academics which are the key to our local economy and an individual’s success in their later life.”

The inequity of it all is absolutely “unfathomable,” said Berkowitz, in light of the district’s status as having one of the highest percentages of students in the state who qualify for free and reduced lunches.

All totaled, what the state is doing is transferring its own tax burden to local taxpayers, he said — which is nothing more than “a slap in the face to our citizens and their future.”

Berkowitz called on lawmakers to “bring both aisles together to cease the efforts of the tax and burden shift, and preserve the integrity of the past relationships between the municipalities, education community and the state.

“As we have heard from many of our citizens, the best way we can describe their feelings is by asking you to STOP THIS INSANITY,” he wrote. Then he closed by saying, “We hope that you are listening.”

Please follow and like us: