REGION 4— Voters of Chester, Deep River and Essex approved a $17,776,120 Region 4 education budget for 2013-2014 Tuesday on a 274-145 vote in an eight hour referendum. The budget, which funds the operation of Valley Regional High School and John Winthrop Middle School,represents a $269,907, or 1.54 percent, spending increase over the current appropriation. The spending plan won voter approval in all three district towns.
But the result was close in Deep River, where the budget carried on a 68-64 vote. The budget carried in Essex on a 161-69 vote. In Chester, where a decrease in students attending the two secondary schools has set the stage for a one-half mill decrease in the tax rate, the budget carried on a 45-12 vote.
A total of 419 voters from the three towns turned out for the referendum. Voter turnout was down from the 2012 referendum, where 619 voters turned out the approve the budget on a 412-207 vote. A total of 699 voters participated in the 2011 budget referendum.
The low turnout prompted Region 4 Board of Education Chairwoman Linda Hall to suggest the board should reconsider it’s policy of holding an annual referendum vote on the budget. The annual referendums began in 2001, the last year a Region 4 budget was rejected by voters of the three towns. In previous years, the budget had been considered by voters at a district meeting held on the first Monday in May.
Hall, a veteran board member who has served two six year terms on the panel, said she will not be seeking another term in the November municipal election. But Hall suggested said the board that is seated in December, after the election, should take another look at the annual referendum policy based on the decreasing voter turnouts of recent years. “It’s something that should be brought to the table,” she said. “It’s such a low turnout and it is an expense for the towns.”