By THOMAS P. CALDWELL, LACONIA DAILY SUN
BRISTOL — By a mere four votes, residents of the Newfound Area School District rejected the proposed budget on Tuesday, which means the default budget, which is $277,762 less, will take effect.
It also sets the school district up for a lawsuit because of disagreement over capital expenditures included in the default budget.
Voters in Danbury, Hebron, and New Hampton supported the $23,813,595 budget, but tallies in Alexandria, Bridgewater, Bristol, and Groton showed opposition. The total count was 761 in favor and 765 opposed, resulting in a default budget of $23,535,833.
Under the statute governing official ballot towns, there is an option to hold a special school district meeting to address the budget in a situation like this, but the option has rarely, if ever, been used. Typically, the default budget is allowed to take effect.
School Board Chairman Jeff Levesque said the board will be deciding what approach to take at its next meeting, on March 26.
The default budget is intended to keep municipalities and school districts operational by continuing the spending included in the last approved budget, with adjustments for “debt service, contracts, and other obligations previously incurred or mandated by law, and reduced by one-time expenditures contained in the operating budget.”
School officials argue that the $800,000 that voters approved last year to replace the high school roof is not a one-time expenditure but, instead, the first year’s spending in a capital improvement plan extending 10 years into the future.
The $712,300 in new capital expenditures that they included in their calculation of the default budget is thus justified, they say.
Superintendent Stacy Buckley said the school district attorney agreed, saying that the definition of one-time expenditures is “appropriations not likely to recur in the succeeding budget, as determined by the governing body....”
Bristol resident Archie Auger, who had made the motion to add the $800,000 last year, maintains it was a one-time appropriation and, therefore, should not be included in the default budget.
He pointed out that the capital improvement plan had not even been approved by the School Board at the time of last year’s district meeting, and voters have never been asked to approve the plan.
Even with a capital improvement plan in place, each year’s projects must go before the voters to appropriate the money, unless voters agree to fund a particular project over a period of time, in which case it becomes a contractual obligation.
Levesque had refused to schedule a special meeting to discuss Auger’s concern in time to adjust the default budget if necessary before Tuesday’s vote, prompting residents and selectmen of the member towns to threaten a lawsuit against the school district.
When the School Board met on Monday, it tabled a discussion on the default budget because Auger was out of town and could not attend the meeting.
Bristol resident Paul Simard, one of those opposing the way the default budget was calculated, said he is waiting to speak with Auger before committing to a lawsuit, but he said, “I’ve got my checkbook ready!”
Newfound's default budget is not the first one to be questioned. Several towns and school districts have faced criticism for the way they calculate the default budget, and Hillsborough County Superior Court recently ruled that the $60,000 that Weare officials had placed in that town’s default budget had to be removed because Weare voters had never approved the spending.The New Hampshire Legislature is looking to tighten up the law to avoid that kind of dispute.
House Bill 1307 would amend the definition of a default budget to stipulate that money taken out of a proposed operating budget also would be removed from the default budget.
HB 1396 would allow the governing body to increase the default budget by qualifying capital expenditures, providing it is certified by a third party as being “a non-deferrable issue of safety, code compliance, or protection against property loss.”
HB 1652 would require a town or school district to provide greater detail about how the default budget was calculated, including the amounts excluded as being one-time expenditures from the previous year. It would remove a provision of the current law that allows a community to hold a special meeting to revise a budget.
The state Senate also has a bill, SB 342, that would require written documentation of the specific cost items that constitute an increase or decrease in the default budget.
Newfound Area School District voters elected Heidi Milbrand in a three-way race for Bristol’s representative to the School Board, with current School Board member John Larson receiving 375 votes and Erin Camire receiving 264 votes.
In uncontested races, Sharon Klapyk was re-elected as Danbury’s representative with 1,025 votes, and Levesque was re-elected as Groton’s representative with 943 votes. Jason Roberts received 108 write-in votes for Hebron’s representative.
Ruby Hill received 1,087 votes for Danbury representative to the School District Budget Committee and Don Franklin received 960 votes as Hebron’s representative. No one ran to represent Groton.
Edward “Ned” Gordon was elected moderator with 1,247 votes.
On other ballot questions, voters agreed, 1,096-400, to place $1 into the expendable trust fund for building maintenance and by 1,156-332 to allow the School Board to convey land and buildings on the Hebron Common to the town of Hebron.
- Category: Local News
- Hits: 706