By Katina Caraganis
ASHBY -- The passage of the Proposition 2 1/2 override vote for the North Middlesex Regional School District stands after a recount of the votes in Ashby passed by a mere five votes, 516-511.
The count was slightly different than the results issued at the end of last month's election, which finished with a margin of 515-512, a three-vote victory.
Ashby resident Kevin Stetson had asked for the recount because of the slim margin of victory.
The override election was held Aug. 28 in all three towns that make up the North Middlesex Regional School District -- Ashby, Pepperell and Townsend -- to supplement the district's operating budget. It had to pass in at least two of the towns. Pepperell passed it by a large margin, while Townsend defeated it by a wide margin.
"I just think there are other options to fund this, like charging kids who ride the bus," Stetson said after the recount Tuesday night, held in the selectmen's chambers at Town Hall. "I think that, right there, they'd make up some of the money.
"The vote was so close to not challenge it," he added. "I felt it was something that needed to get done. I don't enjoy having my taxes go up, but I have to live with it. There's no need to sulk. This is the democratic process."
Because two of the three towns agreed to support the override, the override passed, and Townsend must find a way to come up with its share of the budget without the help of an override, which permanently raises the tax base of a community more than the 2.5 percent allowed by state law.
North Middlesex Regional School Committee members voted this summer to approve a budget that is $1,994,291 less than school officials say it needs, and that contains $200,000 from the district's reserves.
The average taxpayer in Ashby will see an increase of $51 per $100,000 of assessed valuation per year, while residents in Pepperell will see an increase of $33 per $100,000 of valuation per year.
During Tuesday night's recount, counters were divided into pairs and went through ballots in groups of 50. While one member of the pair read off the vote on the ballot, the other would mark it on a tally sheet.
At the end, all data on the individual tally sheets were compiled onto one master one.
Ashby resident Ken Brown, who also serves on the School Committee, said he was glad to see the result come out in the favor of the district.
"I'm glad we validated what our process should validate," he said. "We expected the diligence put in by everybody here to validate what we already knew."
If Tuesday's recount reversed the vote, the budget would have been kicked back to the School Committee, which would have had to make drastic cuts.
Brown said the School Committee and superintendent are already discussing next fiscal year's budget.