DERRY - Saturday's school district deliberative session vote to increase the school budget by $800,000 for 2013-14 is still causing reverberations among citizens and local officials.
State Sen. James Rausch said it is time for the town of Derry to reconsider how it is governed.
"I'm convinced that the only way for us to get budgets under control is to change our form of government to a city form of government and bring the budgeting process under one roof," said Rausch at Tuesday night's Town Council meeting. "It pains me to say this, because I think this is a great forum, but we have a disconnect between the town dealing with only a $30 million budget, but each (town councilor) will receive more phone calls than the school board, and they are now in control of $82 million of what we are responsible for. That's the type of disconnect we can no longer accommodate in this community."
Rausch said the process of changing to a city government will not be easy, and he also pointed to many of the steps he has taken as a citizen and a legislator to support education in Derry over the years.
"As a senator, I wrote the educational funding formula that saved this community $6.4 million," said Rausch, adding that he helped obtain $7.8 million in state funding for the new career and technical education buildings under construction at Pinkerton Academy.
"I firmly believe that the success of the state of New Hampshire is based on a well-educated work force," he said. "Education is critical, but what is lost is that we delicately balance the needs and wants of the community, and we have to be mindful of the affordability of our actions."
Rausch noted that the amount of the school budget raised through property taxes was initially slated to increase by just over $6 million for 2013-14. With the successful vote to increase the budget by $800,000, he said that number now goes to almost $7 million.
That increase represents a tax rate hike of nearly $3 per $1,000 of assessed property value, Rausch said.
"If the estimates are true, we will have a $33.45 tax rate, which I'm almost positive would be the highest in the state," he said.
Rausch said he is alarmed by the process that allows less than 50 people to raise the tax rate and which provides a default budget that is higher than the budget presented by the schools.
"There are not a lot of options for our voters," he said. "It's a testament that the process has failed from what was originally intended. I'm sorry to even suggest we may have to change our form of government, but my suggestion is to try to get one budget process to try to control our tax rate."
Chester Road resident Roberta Robie said she is also upset by the increase in the tax rate and the school budget, but said Derry changing from a town to a city is not the answer.
"Senator Rausch has worked very hard for this community and I understand his notion of Derry becoming a city, but it's not going to work. It's not going to work," she said. "I'm 80 years old and this has been going on for as long as I can remember. (The school board) doesn't care about the taxpayers."
If the town became a city, Robie said the school supporters would still have influence.
"It would not lower what the schools do, because the school zealots would be sitting up there where you are," Robie told the town council. "Becoming a city is a placebo, it isn't going to work."
Al Dimmock, who is running for a town council seat in March, said it should be up to the voters if Derry becomes a city.
Town Councilor Joel Olbricht suggested that people who have issues with the school budget and the tax rate attend school board meetings.
Town Councilor Neil Wetherbee did not say he supports a change from town to city government, but said he was disappointed with what happened at the deliberative session on Saturday.
"It was a total disregard of the taxpayers carried out by 49 people," he said. "All the work done by the elected school board was thrown out in an hour's time by a vote of 49-34. Something has to change. I'm not sure what and I'm not sure how, but 49 people raising the taxes on 35,000 people with zero accountability is unacceptable in my opinion."