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Deliberative Session This Saturday

By Thomas P. Caldwell

BRISTOL — Voters will be gathering at Newfound Regional High School on Feb. 4 at 10 a.m. for the Newfound Area School District’s deliberative session, where they will have a chance to make amendments to the warrant before it goes onto the March ballot.

The proposed budget of $20,952,614, plus warrant articles totaling $248,042, remains $1,499 short of the current-year budget, due to the district’s tax cap which limits increases in the assessment to member towns to no more than two percent. Because projected revenues for 2017-18 are less than this year, the amount remaining to be paid through taxation increases. The two percent tax cap therefore limits spending to $21,200,656, the exact amount on the warrant.

Voters will have the option of amending the budget on the floor of the district meeting, and they will not be bound by the tax cap. Once the budget is finalized at the deliberative session, it will appear on the March 14 ballot for a simple yes-or-no vote. Should voters fail to pass the article, the district would operate on a default budget of $21,384,382 — $183,726 more than the tax cap would allow.

Superintendent Stacy Buckley’s original budget request was $23,000,812, or $1,800,156 more than allowed by the tax cap. It would have resulted in a 4.4 percent increase in the district assessment, to $14,278,454. Under the tax cap, that assessment is $12,478,298.

Broken down by town, the superintendent’s preferred budget would have raised Alexandria’s assessment from $2,385,228 under the cap to approximately $2,727,185; Bridgewater’s would increase from $1,101,793 to $1,256,504; Bristol’s from $3,930,500 to $4,497,713; Danbury’s from $1,476,142 to $1,684,858; Groton’s from $549,308 to $628,252; Hebron’s from $433,289 to $499,746; and New Hampton’s from $2,602,037 to $2,984,197. (These figures are rounded off and actually add up to $14,278,455.)

By reducing her budget proposal to remain within the tax cap, Buckley reduced educational items by $57,012, including $32,012 for regular education summer programs and the Bridge Academy; facility-related items by $1,190,439, including $800,000 for the replacement of the high school roof and $143,000 for carpet and tile replacement and asbestos abatement at the middle school; furniture and equipment items by $21,020; technology items by $328,360; and general spending by $155,831.

A petitioned warrant article initiated by Lucille Keegan would rescind the tax cap after this year. At the school district’s budget hearing, Keegan said she was not advocating uncontrolled spending, but she said the district has not been able to address the maintenance of its buildings under the cap.

School board member Vincent Paul Migliore of Bridgewater called that statement “not factually correct” because of the voters’ ability to override the tax cap at the deliberative session.

Passage of the tax cap rescission would require a three-fifths affirmative vote on the ballot.

The school board has scheduled public hearings on the tax cap article in each of the member towns. The first hearing is set for Monday, Feb. 13, at 6:30 p.m. at Newfound Regional High School. Other scheduled meetings are: Tuesday, Feb. 14, at 5:30 p.m., in the Alexandria Municipal Building; Wednesday, Feb. 15, at 6:30 p.m., Danbury Elementary School; Thursday, Feb. 16, 7 p.m., Hebron Town Hall; Monday, Feb. 20, 6:30 p.m., Bridgewater-Hebron Village School; Tuesday, Feb. 21, 6 p.m., Groton Town Hall; and Thursday, Feb. 23, 6:30 p.m., New Hampton Community School.

Another petitioned article would appropriate $72,000 for the hiring of a school resource officer. Proponents have cited the threat of drug misuse and addiction as a major reason for bringing an officer into the schools, especially since the district no longer offers a Drug and Alcohol Resistance Education (DARE) program. Opponents questioned whether the district would be able to continue the funding in future years.

Article 4 on the warrant would allow the district to place $100,000 from the year-end undesignated fund balance into an expendable trust fund for building maintenance.

Article 5 would fund the cost items in the two-year teachers’ contract, with the 2017-18 appropriation being $248,042. The amount for 2018-19 would be $214,551.

Voting on the warrant, which includes the election of school district officers, will take place on Tuesday, March 14. Polls in Alexandria will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Alexandria Town Hall, 45 Washburn Road. Bridgewater residents will vote between noon and 6 p.m. at the Bridgewater Town Hall on Route 3-A. Bristol voting will take place between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. at the Old Town Hall on Summer Street.

Other polling places are: Danbury Town Hall, 23 High Street, 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.; Groton Town House, 754 North Groton Road, 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.; Hebron Community Hall, Hebron Union Congregational Church, 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.; and New Hampton Town House, 86 Town House Road, 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.

February 2, 2017

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