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School district budget up 12.99 percent over last year

Without extra revenue last year, two year increase is only 3.35 percent

January 06, 2011
WOLFEBORO — Members of the Governor Wentworth Regional School Board voted to approve the proposed budget for fiscal year 2011-12 at their Jan. 3 meeting.

After reviewing line items within the budget and pointing out areas in which the Budget and Finance Committee had tirelessly reviewed and streamlined the overall budget with necessary cuts, Chair of the Committee John Widmer, reiterated from an early meeting the importance of understanding the upcoming year's budget.

"Because we gave the taxpayers their money back, doesn't mean that we're going to have it to give back all the time," he said of the reduction in 2010-11 assessment that most of the district's towns saw in last December's tax bill.

The reduction was the result of unused money in the form of expense savings and unanticipated revenues totaling $3,353,000, which the district returned to taxpayers without hesitation.

But now, without those added revenues, the district will see what seems to be a significant increase in the school district portion of their taxes: an increase in the assessment of approximately $4 million or 12.99 percent.

"That looks huge, however, the $3 million was given back. If we hadn't given it back the estimated 2012 assessment wouldn't be that number [$34,994,916]."

Compared to the fiscal year 2009-10 budget, the proposed budget is comparable with only a 3.35 percent increase over the two-year span.

"If we hadn't given the money back," Widmer explained, "the fiscal 2010-11 assessment would have been $34,334,000, compared to the proposed [2012] assessment of $34,994,916," which is only a 1.92 percent increase.

"The good thing that we did sort of comes back to haunt us because of the perception that there's a huge increase from one year to the next, but when in reality it really isn't," concluded Widmer.

Superintendent Jack Robertson added that when you look at three-year blocks of time and the percentages things went up on average, the 2010-12 block is below average in terms of increases.

"It's fascinating to note that here we are facing this 12.99 percent increase yet if you look at the history of the last 10 years, this three year block is the second lowest we've had in terms of increases over that time." He added that if you look at five-year averages, the first five years and the second are "dead even" as far as increase percentages.

The school budget is made up of three types of expenses: people, operations and debt service. The proposed general fund for 2011-12 included a $2,515,050 increase (6.1 percent). Attributed mostly to a rise in employee expenses that make up 75 to 80 percent of the overall budget, the increase also included a debt service increase of nearly $1 million dollars.

Some of the employee expenses that saw significant increases included a variance in health insurance of $513,823, a rise in the New Hampshire Retirement System of $335,492, and $101,126 designated for new staff positions. These positions include custodial staff for the new Kingswood Arts Center, additional custodial help for the existing buildings while they are under renovation, a full-time PowerSchool technician for the district, and a 20 percent increase in the athletic trainer position.

The operations portion of the budget however has been reduced by $76,675, much to the credit of the Finance Committee that made cuts where possible, without jeopardizing the district's academic and athletic programs.

Added into the mix is a $150,000 warrant article for building and maintenance, funds that go towards ongoing and unanticipated maintenance and repairs to all the district's buildings, and a $64,235 warrant article for the Governor Wentworth Support Staff Association settlement that was negotiated several months ago – both of which the board hopes the voters will approve.

All things considered, the net total increase equaled $2,439,285 or 5.57 percent, for a total proposed 2012 budget of $45,981,059 (excluding warrant articles). This includes a $1,605,976 (5.17 percent) increase in employee expenses; $76,675 (-1.09 percent) decrease in the operating expenses; $985,749 (31.33 percent) increase in debt service; a $135,765 decrease (-38.79 percent) in warrant articles; and $60,000 increase in the food service fund.

Widmer explained that the default budget equaled $45,806,663 – $174,396 less than the proposed budget.

"We've already reduced our operating budget," he elaborated. "My concern with the default budget is… the employee costs are down $100,000. Those are the new positions that we'd like to have and think are necessary. Those are really critical positions at this point." He added that given the cuts already made to the operations portion of the budget, it would be really hard to take more out. "Hopefully the taxpayers will realize there's not a lot of fat in this budget," he concluded.

Board member Diane Drelick added that the district should feel lucky at this point that it hasn't had to make some of the cuts in major programs that others in the state are currently having to face.

"Hopefully, the taxpayers will realize that this is lean, but also prudent," she said.

Donor town issue

More potentially news district voters face is the "donor town" issue. If the current law remains, Tuftonboro will be mandated to raise approximately $836,423 in extra taxes and Wolfeboro $822,007 to send to Concord – a total of $1,658,430 that will be distributed to other school districts throughout the state. With several bills on the table right now regarding the status of donor towns, it is unclear whether this will change or not and how the district specifically will be affected.

District voters will have a chance to hear more about the proposed budget and four other district warrant articles at the upcoming Deliberative Session scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 5 beginning at 10 a.m. in the Kingswood Arts Center auditorium. The slide show and presentation given at the board's Jan. 3 meeting can also be viewed on the local Wolfeboro Community TV channel. Additionally, more coverage on the other approved warrant articles and items discussed at its Jan. 3 meeting will be printed in the next week's edition of this newspaper.

The board will meet after the Deliberative Session on Monday, Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. for their next regularly scheduled meeting at Crescent Lake School.

Heather Terragni can be reached at 569-3126 or hterragni@salmonpress.com

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