To The Daily Sun,
On March 8, the citizens and voters of Gilford are being asked again whether we should continue to have a Budget Committee. To assure that the Gilford Budget Committee remains a viable part of our local government vote "no" on Article 30 of the town ballot.
This year, two former members of the Budget Committee have put forth a petitioned warrant article to disband the committee. Their claim is that it adds another layer of government and costs the town money, rather than saving the taxpayers money. Bogus assertions all. Perhaps "balderdash" would be the better word.
The analysis of Allen Voivod and Fred Butler is grossly flawed.
The total actual budget of the Gilford School District for school year 2013-14 was $24,098,170. The proposed budget for the 2016-17 school year that we are now voting on is $25,852,759. That is a $1,754,589 increase in four short years. This is a combined 7.3 percent increase in this period alone. And it does not include the cost of the bond for the elementary school repairs.
As an aside, I recommend not voting to approve this year's budget request, as was the recommendation of the Budget Committee not to approve it.
This is just one example of their flawed presentation. How much higher would these figures be if not for the Budget Committee?
To be fair, there have been some years where the total budget request had stayed flat. Usually there are good reasons for that. It could be that a bond issue was paid off. It could be in years where staff adjustments were made to better reflect the declining school enrollment that we have seen over the last 15 years.
Incidentally, it was the Budget Committee that first pointed out the disparity of enrollment to staffing. I don't believe the School Board or administration would have made those adjustments if it had not been pointed out by us. Certainly another unaccounted for value in process.
A truer measure of the budget request would be the cost per student. The 2016-17 school budget gives us a gross number of $21,419 per student. There are private schools that are cheaper. This ratio approaches academy costs. The average education cost per student in New Hampshire is around $14,500 a year. The students, staff and administration all do well within our system.
I have served six years on the Budget Committee. The terms of Voivod and Butler, the petitioners, coincided with this time — one elected, one appointed. My observations were thus. Neither took the proceedings seriously. Both were habitually late, absent much more than other members, and often left before adjournment. Neither made any serious attempt to rein in spending on either the town side, especially the school side of the budget. If you drill down deeper you find that one is married to a teacher and the other is a relative of the same person. Are their motives self-serving?
The petitioned article itself has been signed by mostly members of the community that derive their salary and Cadillac health care plan benefits directly from the taxpayers of Gilford. As previously pointed out by other letter writers, most of the signees are teachers or their spouses. Most of the medical plans that they receive are funded around 95 percent of the cost. Does anyone truly believe that the people putting forward this petition are acting in the best interest of all of the taxpayers of Gilford?
Usually the people who serve on the Budget Committee, unpaid, take their responsibilities very seriously. The concerns of all of the Gilford taxpayers are considered. It is recognized that we need to provide proper funding for education, funding for the town to function and provide their services. It has been done in a manner that examines line by line every dollar requested. The entire process is time-consuming and yes, it can get contentious at times.
We understand the complexities of the economy. The fact that many people in the community are existing on Social Security only, a system that has not provided increases in three of the last four years.
We know that people who work in the private sector have not received raises and contribute much more to their own benefits than ever before. Homeowners in Gilford have seen 15 percent property tax increases in real dollars in the past few years. Voivod and Butler should look at reality in true dollars what the cost is to taxpayers, not hypotheticals.
What drives this increase? The taxes are based on the town and school-approved budgets, along with the county's portion. The average private sector household incomes are down over a period of years. The Budget Committee has been sensitive to all sides of the arguments and has striven to keep expenditures under control to some degree.
The savings that the Budget Committee has contributed to the process have been many in the six years that I served.
The $75,000 repair of a fire truck versus spending $550,000 on a new one is a notable recent example where the efforts of the Budget Committee saved tax dollars. Where does this show up in the petitioners' (new math) calculations?
The value of the Budget Committee far outweighs any savings. Without the Budget Committee who would provide this level of detailed scrutiny to put checks and balances into effect on tax dollars spent?
How would anyone know that the administration staff has been secretly receiving longevity bonuses for 10 years? They are now shown as a line item in the Budget Committee's budget. Would you know that town employees can sell back vacation time now?
As you go to vote on March 8, please remember the value of the services that the Gilford Budget Committee provides to the entire community and vote "no" on Article 30.
David R. Horvath, Sr.