FRANKLIN — Candidates seeking to represent Franklin and Northfield in the state legislature will address New Hampshire’s school funding crisis at a forum on Oct. 24. The forum will be held at the Franklin Opera House, 316 Central St., from 6-8 p.m. State Senate candidates and all House candidates for Merrimack County Districts 2, 3 and 26 have been invited to attend.
The funding crisis is the result of reductions voted in by the state legislature. "In 2015 the legislature voted to gradually eliminate education stabilization grants at a rate of four percent per year, with the goal of total elimination by 2037," said Northfield Town Administrator Glenn Smith.
"As a result of legislative action Northfield loses almost $100,000 per year in state aid to education," reports Selectboard Chair Wayne Crowley.
"Like Northfield, the City of Franklin is hit even harder, and losses over $161,000 in stabilization funding every year," said Mayor Tony Giunta. By the time the reductions are fully enacted, Northfield would lose more than $2.2 million in state funding while Franklin would lose more than $4 million.
"To put it in perspective, the tax burden being shifted from the state to Northfield taxpayers is more than double our current police department budget. It is unrealistic to expect Northfield’s property taxpayers to shoulder this burden," said Smith.
Judie Milner, Franklin’s city manager, said "For a property-poor community like Franklin, the shift of an additional $4 million to the local taxpayer means the average $175,000 home would see an increase in their tax bill of over $1,000 per year. Taxpayers simply can’t afford this kind of increase."
Selectman Crowley believes that at the heart of the issue is the state’s obligation to fund adequate education for all New Hampshire students. "Our state legislators need to address the state contribution to provide an adequate education to K-12 public schools; currently the state aid is $3,636, while the average per pupil cost is over $15,000 per year." He notes that a contributing factor is the inequalities in tax burden between towns. "There are major disparities in capability of towns to raise funds for schools based upon property taxes/assessed evaluations, property rich towns like Moultonborough have a total tax rate lower than $10 per thousand, while Northfield’s is greater than $24 per thousand, this needs to be more equalized."
And although Mayor Giunta is very concerned over the additional tax burden being shifted onto homeowners, the increasing tax burden placed on businesses in Franklin does nothing to ease his mind. "We are still an industrial center with one in four jobs depending on our local manufacturers. Already having to absorb the highest energy prices in the country, I’m very concerned that adding additional tax burdens will eventually force them to move elsewhere. That would be disastrous for our city," said Giunta.
The forum on Oct. 24 will give candidates the opportunity to present their positions on this issue, and give voters the chance to ask questions.