School budget half-mil short for next year

Prior to salary talks, Laconia schools expect $1 million in new expenses

By DAVID CARKHUFF/THE LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — In 2017-2018, local schools can expect $590,000 in new revenues based on the city's property tax cap and state aid, while new expenses could exceed $1 million, members of the Laconia School Board learned Tuesday.

Business Administrator Christine Blouin, speaking to members of the district's budget and personnel committee, said over $1 million in increased expenses will primarily stem from New Hampshire Retirement System costs for teachers, which are expected to rise 11 percent; and health insurance costs, which are expected to increase about 7.7 percent.

The tax cap, which limits the annual increase in spending funded by property taxes, is based on the rate of inflation, measured by the Consumer Price Index — Urban (CPI-U), for the prior calendar year; and the value of new construction, which is calculated by multiplying the value of building permits minus the value of demolition permits issued between April 1 and March 31 by the prior year's property tax rate.

Last year, for the first time since the tax cap was first applied in 2006, the CPI-U was projected to be at or near zero — the CPI-U ultimately used to calculate the 2016-2017 budget was 0.1 percent.

For 2017-2018, Blouin said the CPI-U has been calculated to be 1.3 percent. With $19 million in building permits, she said the school district can anticipate $590,000 in revenues. The tax cap calculation estimates call for $532,389 derived by building permits and CPI and roughly $62,000 from miscellaneous revenues such as adequacy and vocational funds, totaling $594,389, she reported. The figures are estimates only, she added.

State adequacy aid partly stems from enrollment estimates so this year the forecasts are for a minor increase.

"Our enrollment seems about flat, roughly," Superintendent Brendan Minnihan said Tuesday.

But the retirement system and health insurance cost spikes again will put pressure on the district, said Mike Persson of the Laconia School Board, chairman of the budget and personnel committee.

And Persson said new salary costs from pending teacher negotiations are not included in the $1 million in additional expenses.

Persson, when asked how much teacher raises could add to the budget, said that won't be known until the school board negotiates with the teachers union.

"Our teachers are so far behind at this point in time compared with other districts," he said. "Many of our teachers, actually over 100 of our teachers, are over four years behind on their steps. There are a lot of moving parts that we have to consider before we come to that."

In March 2016, the budget and personnel committee distributed a schedule of proposed cuts amounting to $1,641,995. These were cuts from a proposed budget in order to reach the tax cap threshold.

For fiscal year 2016, the total amount of property taxes collected in support of schools — a number controlled by the city's property tax cap — was $22,784,384, according to the current school budget (2016-2017). For fiscal year 2017 and the 2016-2017 school year, that property tax figure was $23,195,328, an increase of $410,944.

This year, as requested by School Board members, an adjustment sheet with the proposed budget will reflect district needs vs. tax cap mandates, Blouin said.

Persson said this comparison will help illustrate the district's financial challenges.

"Maybe it's just a matter of having the tax cap-based budget with the needs-based add-ons to it so we understand the trade-offs that we're making in coming to that budget number," he said.

Blouin said the district's leadership — much of it new due to a turnover in top positions — will focus on developing budget documents.

"We've met with the administrators. We're looking at coming up with a plan to make sure we can meet the tax cap constraints," she said.

Saturday, March 18 is "Super Saturday," the daylong review of the school district budget.

Fishing derby organizers unfazed by storm

By DAVID CARKHUFF/THE LACONIA DAILY SUN

MEREDITH — Anyone looking to buy tickets online for the 38th annual Great Meredith Rotary Ice Fishing Derby this weekend needs to do so by noon Thursday, Feb. 9. Based on weather forecasts, today's a good day to stay inside and register via the Internet, anyway.
The National Weather Service predicts a winter storm dumping snow from southwest to northeast Thursday morning "and becoming heavy at times over southern New Hampshire and coastal Maine around mid-day."
For Tim Bergquist, chairman of the fishing derby, the storm is a non-factor.
"It won't stop us. We've had snowstorms come on derby weekend, and the derby has gone on," he said.
The 38th annual Great Meredith Rotary Ice Fishing Derby will benefit from a recent cold snap, which provided more than a foot of ice on Meredith Bay, Bergquist said.
The forecast for Saturday and Sunday calls for mostly cloudy conditions, with a chance of snow showers both days. Highs are expected to hover near the mid-20s on Saturday and in the mid-30s on Sunday.
Bergquist said online registrations are running ahead of last year. Online ticket sales account for a little more than a third of registrations, he said. Registrations cost $30.
"We're hoping for somewhere over 5,000," Bergquist said of total registrations.
Once the online store for derby ticket purchases closes at noon on Thursday, Feb. 9, tickets will only be available at vendor sites, and at the derby trailer at Town Docks, where the weigh-in station will be located, beginning at 8 a.m. Friday, Feb. 10. Ticket buyers are automatically entered into the cash drawings.
This year, derby organizers are offering 14 derby ticket stub cash prize drawings on Saturday for $100 each and 32 derby ticket stub cash prize drawings on Sunday for $100 each. Drawings will start on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. and on Sunday at 8 a.m. and will be held about every 15 minutes.
Top prize for the derby is $15,000; second prize is $5,000; and third prize is $3,000. The three top prizes will be awarded to the angler with a valid derby ticket whose name is drawn on Sunday during the Grand Prize Drawing from anglers who are eligible, determined by those who had the largest fish (as defined in the derby rules) in each category throughout the derby weekend.
Derby organizers will be selling raffle tickets at the headquarter trailer for a portable bob house donated by Northern Fabrication Solutions in Tamworth. The bob house is valued at approximately $3,400. Tickets will be $5 per ticket or a book of five tickets for $20.
Bergquist said interest has been high in the bob house.
Also, on Saturday, in conjunction with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, derby will host the "Let's Go Fishing" program. This free hands-on clinic for kids and their parents on the basics of ice fishing will be presented by the Fish and Game Department. The clinic is geared toward kids but is open to anyone; those 16 and under must be accompanied by an adult. All equipment will be provided, and participants do not need to have a fishing license to participate. Goody bags will be given to each participant, on a first-come, first-serve basis until they run out. Sessions will run hourly at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m., and 3 p.m. at in the roped-off area on Meredith Bay near the Meredith Rotary headquarter trailer on Lake Winnipesaukee.
For more information about the derby, visit www.meredithrotary.com/the-fishing-derby.html.

Retirement restoration

Momentum gathers for state contribution to system

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

CONCORD — Legislation that would restore a portion of the state contribution toward the retirement costs of school teachers, police officers and firefighters is pending in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. By a vote of 10 to 9, the House Executive Departments and Administration Committee has endorsed House Bill 413, which would require the state to pay 15 percent of the employer contribution beginning in fiscal year 2018.

The state has paid a share of pension costs for teachers, police and firefighters since the 1940s, when they were enrolled in separate retirement programs. In 1967, when the New Hampshire Retirement System was established, the state required municipalities and school districts to enroll these employees in the system and in return contributed 35 percent of the cost of their pensions. The state reduced its share to 30 percent in 2010, to 25 percent in 2011 and eliminated it altogether in 2012.

Laconia City Manager Scott Myers estimated that the city and the school district would be spared $240,000 and $300,000 in retirement costs respectively. This year, Myers expects the city's contribution to the New Hampshire Retirement System to jump by $200,000, more than half the annual increase in expenditures permitted by the tax cap. Last week, in correspondence to the City Council, Myers urged them to support the bill and inform the House members who represent the city of its positive impact on the municipal budget.

The New Hampshire Municipal Association, which has aggressively lobbied in favor of the bill, estimates that the return to school districts in the Lakes Region would be about $86,200 in Alton, $70,600 in Barnstead, $215,300 in Gilford, $55,100 in Gilmanton, $196,700 in Inter-Lakes, $144,000 in Moultonborough, $202,300 in Newfound, $216,400 in Shaker Regional, $212,000 in Winnisquam Regional and $140,000 in Franklin.

The association estimates that in Belknap County the state contribution of 15 percent to the cost of pensions for police officers and firefighters would represent $40,000 in Alton, $30,400 in Barnstead, $79,000 in Belmont, $9,000 in Center Harbor, $107,300 in Gilford, $22,800 in Gilmanton, $47,600 in Meredith, $14,400 in New Hampton, $18,000 in Sanbornton and $45,000 in Tilton.

Altogether, a state contribution of 15 percent would reduce local government costs throughout the state by $40.8 million in 2018, $42.1 million in 2019, $43.4 million in 2020 and $44.7 million in 2021.

By recommending HB 413 "ought to pass," albeit by the narrowest of margins, the House Executive Departments and Administration Committee made a statement of policy. If the bill carries the House, it will be referred to the House Finance Committee, which is responsible for determining how to pay for it. Taken aback by the vote of the committee and perhaps awaiting for Governor Chris Sununu to present his budget, the leadership of the House has yet to schedule it for a vote, However, the bill must come to the House floor by Feb. 16.

Speaking at a forum hosted by the New Hampshire Municipal Association in October, Sununu, then a can date for governor, indicated In October, Sununu, then a candidate for governor, indicated that he was open to restoring the state contribution to retirement costs, but stopped short of specifying particular amount.

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