To The Daily Sun,
The Gilford School Administrative Unit creates the proposed school budget and the proposed "default budget" and submits them for possible revisions and approval to the Gilford School Board, which then submits them to the Gilford Budget Committee for study, possible revisions, and ultimate recommendations to the voters. The voters of Gilford are the ultimate deciders on how much the three schools in Gilford and the SAU itself can spend in the coming year, and, accordingly, how much each Gilford taxpayer will have to pay. The school taxes are the largest component of the Gilford property tax bills.
Voters can either (a) not vote at all on the proposed budget; (b) vote to approve the proposed budget; or (c) vote against the proposed budget, in which case, the default budget will govern for the coming year.
The default budget is defined in New Hampshire law as the amount of the same appropriations as contained in the operating budget authorized for the previous year, reduced and increased, as the case may be, by debt service, contracts, and other obligations previously incurred or mandated by law, and reduced by one-time expenditures contained in the operating budget. For this definition, "one-time expenditures" means appropriations not likely to recur in the succeeding budget.
The default budget provision is designed to allow voters to reject ever-increasing government expenditures and ever-increasing taxes to pay for them. All a voter should have to do to try to keep the government expenditures and taxes under control is to vote "no" on a proposed budget and the default budget, if properly and honestly calculated, should do the trick. But that cannot happen again this year as has often been the case in the recent past.
The warrant article for the Gilford schools' budget will show a total amount for the proposed operating budget and a total amount for the so-called default budget. Since one-time expenditures in the prior year should be excluded in calculating the default budget, the total amount of the default budget should be lower than the proposed operating budget. If it is not, that is a pretty good indication that games have been played with the calculation of the default budget, contrary to the intent of the law.
For the upcoming town election on March 8, the warrant article for the schools' budget will be lower than what is described as the default budget. The reason is that all one-time expenditures have not been removed, as required by law. Thus, if a voter votes "no" on the operating budget, the higher default budget will be applicable and the School Board will have the discretion to re-allocate line item amounts within the default budget to accomplish their spending goals with little control by the taxpayers.
As an elected member of the Gilford Budget Committee, I specifically asked the staff of the SAU in writing whether all one-time expenditures had been removed in calculating the default budget, and the written answer was "yes." Yet even the most cursory review of the prior year's budget shows that there were many one-time expenditures that were not removed in preparing the phony default budget. Yet the so-called default budget that will appear in the warrant article is patently false and misleading, and, I believe, intentionally so.
According to at least one viewer of the video of the School Board meeting at which the SAU staff presented the proposed default budget for review and approval, there was virtually no discussion of the item, and the default budget prepared by the SAU staff was simply approved and signed off on by members of the School Board. That is the phony default budget that will be given to voters as an alternative in the upcoming Town Election.
Since misery loves company, as the saying goes, Gilford is not alone in having this problem. Many towns in the state have experienced the same problem to the extent that at least one state representative has introduced a bill in the present Legislature that will attempt to tighten up the requirements to remove one-time expenditures from any proposed default budget.
If a properly-and honestly-constructed default budget were to be adopted because the voters have voted down the proposed operating budget, there will be no increases in compensation for any employees who are not covered by a contract, such as most administrators, and they will simply have to live without any increase in compensation in the coming year, much as Social Security recipients have been told that they will have to live without any increase in benefits in 2016.
As a member of the Budget Committee and as a taxpayer, I do not like obfuscation and outright lying about our finances, since we rely on truthful, accurate and transparent presentations in order to make our recommendations to the taxpayers.
Every taxpayer in Gilford should be as outraged as I am with this sleight of hand by the School Board and SAU designed to increase our taxes and pad the wallets of a few at taxpayer expense.
Norman J. Silber, Member
Gilford Budget Committee