Special Town Meeting Set
by Andrew Turner
School directors voted unanimously last night to ask taxpayers for more money. Not more in taxes, but more of the nearly $800,000 extra in state aid expected this year from state coffers.
The vote set into motion a warning for a special town meeting Aug. 4, at which residents will be asked to rescind an agreement to reduce their tax bills.
At town meeting on March 3, voters adopted a measure allowing the board to spend up to $200,000 in any excess funds received from the state. The money, the board said, would go toward restoring materials and positions cut over the past two years.
Anything above that $200,000 would go back to the taxpayers in the way of tax relief.
Last night, the board voted in effect to throw that agreement out the window and renegotiate, after learning that their $2.8 million budget was roughly $750,000 too little, in effect giving taxpayers a tax break of half a million dollars.
The only way a special town meeting can be called is to ask residents to totally eliminate the budget, or to reconsider it, the latter of which the board chose on the recommendation of Superintendent David Baker, who spent his first day on the job Monday.
His plan, he said, was an attempt at fiscal responsibility. Taking more of the extra state aid and applying it toward eliminating the district's bonded indebtedness of just over $400,000, and also getting rid of carryover debt from the previous year, would save the district four years of exorbitant debt payments and the cumbersome interest payments that accompany such debt, Baker reasoned.
If one adds the anticipated $200,000 in surplus expected this year to the picture, the district is looking at close to $1 million it hadn't budgeted.
"The news is good, but I wonder if we shouldn't warn a special town meeting and tell the people, 'Hey, this isn't a little bit more, this is a lot more,"' Baker said to the board.
"In essence, we're putting the whole budget before the people again, with the understanding that we're doing this out of fiscal responsibility," he added.
He told the board that a possible scenario would be to take $200,000 as first planned and put it toward replenishing the district's needs. Another $200,000, meanwhile, could go toward tax relief, and a majority of the remaining $500,000 could get the district out of debt.
"I'm the new kid on the block, so maybe it's my naivete, but I think it makes sense to go before the voters," Baker said, and the board agreed.
School Director Robert Ward likened the situation to having a credit card and receiving a financial windfall.
"I think it's only sensible to do," Ward said. "There's going to be a lot of letters to the editor from now until the town meeting, (1)ut) if you get a windfall like this, you don't go out and spend it."
"I understand the history here. If you do this, it's going to take a tremendous amount of courage on your part," Baker said.
The board is most worried about the potential of a fiscally fickle public not buying into the idea and even taking money away from the budget.
Michele Authier summed up her feelings, saying, "There is risk here but the budget did pass fairly easily at town meeting.