Sandown Budget Numbers Bring Plea for Residents’ Action

SANDOWN – At this week’s selectmen meeting, Timberlane Regional School District budget committee member Donna Green and her husband, Arthur Green, laid out a dire tax bill scenario for residents next year if the district’s current budget proposal passes unchanged.
It was a message that resounded with selectmen and residents in the wake of hefty increases recently discovered in the current year’s tax bills.

Donna Green, who lives in Sandown, has been an outspoken member of the budget committee, but was clear on Monday that despite her efforts to reduce spending, including a recent attempt to remove about $900,000 from the current year’s proposal, she and fellow Sandown budget committee member Cathy Gorman haven’t made much headway in reducing what Green called “slightly out of control” numbers.
Selectmen and their office in town hall have been inundated with calls since tax bills began arriving in homes. With a $6.30 increase per $1,000 of assessed home value, some residents are seeing $1,000-plus increases in their bills.
While those who follow developments at various committees through the year may have seen the increase coming down the line, the number of attendees at school and town deliberative sessions, where the figures can be amended, is historically very low, and on Monday Donna Green urged residents to come out to the school’s deliberative session in February.
The bulk of the local tax increase comes from the school side of things, as an increase in spending and a drop in revenues from the state combined for a 5.1 percent increase, or $2.24 million more tax dollars to be raised.
Costs for the 2013-2014 year represent a 1.9 percent increase for taxpayers, according to Green, but when warrant articles approved at the last district meeting are added in, that percentage jumps to 3.2 percent. And when the loss of revenue is added, the number further climbs to 5.1 percent.
Green’s main point of the evening, however, was not to focus on what had already happened, but to note how much worse the coming year’s scenario looks. According to Green, the 2014-2015 proposed budget currently stands at a 4.4 percent increase in spending, with $2.9 million more than the current year.
Because neither spending nor revenue projections have been finalized, many of the numbers presented Monday were estimates.
Green surmised that if revenues stay the same, that 4.4 percent increase will really be a 6.9 percent increase.
Green also added an average surplus of $2 million to that number, arguing that if the surplus is included, that increase jumps to 9 percent when compared to actual expeditures of the previous year. The current year’s budget totals $64,422,418, so $2 million is approximately a 3 percent surplus.
The major complaint with the numbers was the relative cost per pupil in light of the fact that enrollment has dropped over the last few years. According to numbers presented Monday enrollment has dropped by 17.28 percent since it peaked in 2008. At the same time, the cost of the district has gone up 21 percent. Green argued that when adjusted for inflation, the per pupil cost has jumped 32 percent in those years.
The bulk of school spending is routinely taken up with salaries and benefits for teachers and staff.
Selectman Jim Devine, a former longtime member of the Timberlane budget committee, echoed the Greens’ concerns, stating that since he left the board in the ‘90s there are fewer kids but spending has grown exponentially.
To make comparisons easier, the numbers presented Monday included the School Administrative Unit (SAU) budget, but a petitioned warrant article last year, put forward by Green, will take those numbers out of the district budget as a whole for a separate warrant vote. The SAU budget currently shows a 10.75 percent increase, and that spending would be correspondingly removed from the 4.4 percent number.
Arthur Green further explained how, compared to the other towns in the district, Sandown took a larger percentage hit in its tax bills because of the increased cost of the district, and how in the coming year, if numbers stay the same, it will again.
Arthur Green noted that there were many unknown numbers that had a great impact to how the school’s budget affected taxpayers, and that it was difficult to get a complete picture of the numbers without that missing information. He explained that generally all the budget committee receives is the spending portion of the equation.
The budget is divided up among the towns in the district by student head count, and while enrollment dropped everywhere, Sandown’s number dropped less than the other district towns. Correspondingly Sandown went from shouldering 22.1 percent of the budget to shouldering 23 percent, according to Arthur Green’s calculations. The other Timberlane towns are Danville, Atkinson and Plaistow.
While he conceded that .9 percent didn’t sound like a lot, that equaled an additional $400,000 in costs attributed to town.
The other towns in the district did not see the same level of tax bill increase.
Donna Green said it wasn’t her intention to downplay the importance of schools, or to imply that their responsibilities weren’t great, but that voters and taxpayers needed to push back. There’s nothing wrong with the district asking for these budgets, she said, but residents seem to have lost the ability to say no.
The school’s deliberative session is set for Feb. 6 at 7 p.m. at the Timberlane Performing Arts Center in Plaistow.
In other business at the Dec. 2 meeting:
• In light of the resignation of Sandown’s representative to the Timberlane Regional School District school board, Roger Barczak, the board agreed to solicit requests from town residents who want to fill the seat until March’s election. The board is looking to make a decision by Dec. 23.
Arthur Green expressed his desire to take on the role, but noted some delays in the process because of his employer’s policies.
• Eagle Scout hopeful Jared Magoon of Troop 268 received approval for his plans to replace the aging message board outside town hall. Magoon presented his plans to replace the sign with a message board capped by the town seal and name. His project is estimated to cost $3,300 and he will be out fundraising soon.

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.