Published Date Written by Adam DrapchoMEREDITH — Voters at the annual Inter-Lakes School District meeting last night unanimously passed the proposed operating budget for the 2013-2014.
However, on the question of what should happen to any funds left in the budget at the end of next school year, the voting body was of a split mind. Those present at the meeting passed, by a narrow majority, a measure to allow the district to encumber a limited amount of unreserved funds remaining at the end of the school year, if there are any, and to use those funds in subsequent years to offset steep tax rises or to pay for an emergency expenditure.
The article was presented to voters with the endorsement of the school board. However, as retiring board member Jack Carty noted, only four of the seven board members were present at the meeting when the article received unanimous recommendation.
Carty made it clear that he would have voted against its recommendation. "One of the first sayings I learned when I came to New Hampshire is, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. This is not a good idea."
Carty said he preferred the current manner of appropriations and expenditures, which he said is "transparent all the way along." At the end of a budget cycle, he continued, any un-spent funds are used to reduce the amount of taxes levied to fund the subsequent school year. "In effect, you get that money back by December of that year. I think it's a far better idea for the people that hold the money to be the people that earned it, not the district."
As explained by Assistant Superintendent Trish Temperino and attorney Barbara Loughman, a new state law allows for districts to create such a fund. The law, RSA 198:4-b, II, allows districts to retain as much as 2.5 percent of the current year's net assessment, and to expend the funds in subsequent years to dull what would otherwise be a sharp year-over-year jump in taxation. "It's a way to keep the tax rate from spiking," said Temperino.
Districts are also permitted to use the fund to cover emergency expenditures but only with approval from the state's Department of Education. "It's not carte blanche, it's not a slush fund," said Loughman.
"This is extremely confusing," said Warren Clark of Meredith, one of several voters who adopted Carty's view of the proposal. "Let's keep it simple."
More voters, in the end, sided with the board majority's view, however. Miller Lovett, chairman of Merediths selectboard, said, "Fund balances are very important to the town, I've always wondered why there isn't a provision for the school." About the measure at hand, he said, "I personally favor it."
After much discussion, Meredith resident Mike Hatch moved the question. The initial showing of votes for and against was too close for moderator Lee Quimby to discern, though after asking for a second showing he declared the article passed.
Earlier in the night, voters easily approved a one-year collective bargaining agreement for the district's support staff. The agreement results in an increased salary and benefit cost of $138,609 over the current arrangement.
Voters also unanimously approved an operating budget of $20,998,543 for the 2013-2014 school year. The budget is increased by 2.75 percent, or $562,761, over the current plan. As board chairman Richard Hanson explained, the increase was due to contractually-obligated salary increases, as well as "downshifting of financial responsibilities from state to local government," with retirement contributions making up more than half of the total increase.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the district recognized the contributions of Marjorie Lee, who taught English at Inter-Lakes High School for more than four decades and, in her retirement, has operated the high school store for two more decades.
The district also thanked Carty, who is retiring after serving his third consecutive term on the board and who lent his time to dozens of committees and initiatives along the way.
In receiving her ovation and a gift from the district, Lee said such accolades "Seldom belong to the recipient alone," and are often possible only thanks to many others who helped along the way. "And so it has been with me, dear friends." She concluded by saying, "I want you to know how happy I am, that I'm wearing the blue and white of Laker Country, and how proud I am to be a Laker."
Carty recalled how he and his wife had traveled the country before finding a place to finally settle down, many years ago. "We found a plot of land in a little town in Meredith, next to a burned-out asbestos mill... Other than convinving my wife to marry me, it was the second-best decision I ever made."