Gilford schools returning $1.5 million to taxpayers

GILFORD — After closing the books on the 2012-2013 school year, district administrators said they have a $1.476-million (6.4 percent) surplus that will be returned to taxpayers in the form of a credit against this year's property tax commitment.

School Board Chair Sue Allen said yesterday that there were no emergency or safety issues that have to be addressed so the plan is to return it all.

"Our goal is always to the mindful of the taxpayers," Allen said.

The 2012-2013 school district budget was $22,992,075 of which $14,049,394 was raised by local taxes. Town Finance Director Geoff Ruggles said the local school budget accounted for $9.21 per $1,000 in assessment or about one-half of the total tax rate of $18.31.

School Business Administrator Scott Isabelle said yesterday that the revised amount to be raised by local taxes in 2013 is estimated now to be $13,089,289 but it hasn't been confirmed by the N.H. Department of Revenue.

Superintendent Kent Hemingway said yesterday that three things contributed to the surplus — an overage in the special education budget, health insurance, and, most importantly, energy savings.

Last year, he said, the school district took some of the previous year's surplus and replaced the boiler at the Gilford High School. He said the district had thought they could get a few more years out of it but at the end of last year realized it was cracked.

"That alone saved us hundreds of thousands of dollars," Hemingway said.

He said the school district budgets for the maximum allowable increase in health insurance every year — a figure guaranteed to them by their insurance underwriter — but last year the actual rates were lower than what was budgeted. Because of the budgeting schedule, the district doesn't typically have the exact rate of increase until well after the budget has been prepared and accepted by the voters.

Hemingway said they also budgeted more for heating oil and credited the school district's participation in a loyal oil-buying consortium that negotiates the best possible price for its oil.

As for the 2014-2015 budget, Hemingway said he and Business Administrator Scott Isabelle are paring down the individual school requests and will have a total draft budget available for the School Board annual budget workshop session on October 28.

Hemingway said replacing the telephone system is the major capital improvement project the school district needs for 2014-2015. He said the existing system is no longer supported by the available software and there is no way to continually service it.
He said the district has a medium range capital goal of repaving all of the parking lots.

Both of those capital requests are part of the town's Capital Improvement Project plan.

Allen said she is equally confident that the school administration will present them with a reasonable annual budget for the next school year.

She said the school district is negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with the teachers' union they hope to bring to voters at the annual district (SB-2) Deliberative Session.

She said members will likely get the draft budget on October 25 and will have the weekend to digest it. The budget workshop is scheduled for 5 p.m. on October 28.

The next School Board meeting is November 4 and the School District is scheduled to present its 2013-2014 annual budget request to the Budget Committee on December 5 at 6:30 p.m. at the Town Hall meeting room.