GILFORD — When Budget Committee member Norman Silber threatened to ask for a criminal investigation into the school district's default budget, he said it was because the budget was presented and sworn as accurate and then signed by the members of the School Board under penalties of perjury. Now the district has called an emergency meeting to address the accusations.
Calling the default budget "false" and "misleading," Silber said if the one-time expenditures identified by the Budget Committee are not remedied, or removed from the budget, he would ask the state Attorney General's Office and/or the Belknap County Attorney's Office to look into it.
His possible criminal allegations are based on state law RSA 641, which defines "unsworn falsification" and provides penalties for it.
Silber, an attorney and member of the New Hampshire and Florida Bar Associations, made his statements near the end of the Jan. 14 Budget Committee's public hearing for the town budget and not during the committee's public hearing for the Gilford School District that was held on Jan. 12.
Gilford School District Superintendent Kent Hemingway responded to Silber's threat yesterday, saying the School Board would be meeting on Monday at 6 p.m. at the elementary school to "consider" the default budget.
Hemingway said at the end of the final Budget Committee meeting on Jan. 7, he and Budget Administrator Scott Isabelle spent an hour after everyone else had left, other than committee members, while Chairman Kevin Leandro and member David Horvath Sr. repeatedly demanded that Isabelle go back and change the default budget.
Hemingway went on to say that the Budget Committee agreed to establish a co-committee with the School Board to work on future default budgets.
"My first point of business on Jan. 25 will be to request a motion that the School Board approve joining the committee," Hemingway said. He also said he and Isabelle will present a 10-year history of how default budgets have been prepared since the adoption of the Official Ballot Law, commonly called SB2.
Silber said the Budget Committee asked in writing if all one-time expenditures have been removed from the default budget and was told they were. He said he and other members of the committee have questioned about $300,000 in line items that they believe were one-time expenditures and not removed during the default budget preparation.
One of the biggest single items questioned by the Budget Committee has been the $100,000 "seed" money for the destruction and rebuild of the Imagination Station at the elementary school.
Hemingway said that money is designated as a continuing pool of money for "special projects" and is in every budget, not a one-time expense. For example, he said, three school years ago the seats in the high school auditorium were replaced with that money and two years ago the elementary school parking lot was paved with the same special projects line. Last year, it was Imagination Station. He said that all special projects are selected from the capital improvement plan.
A default budget is basically last year's budget, increased by items like contracts and health insurance costs, and decreased by the amount of one-time expenses. The default budget was determined to be higher than the district's proposed operating budget, spurring the concerns, and would go into effect if voters do not approve the proposed budget. The default budget was set this year at $25,688,824, while the proposed budget is $25,667,251, a difference of $21,573.