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March 04. 2014 6:00PM

GRS school district to weigh $1 rate cut vs. stable tax rate

Taxpayers in the Gorham, Randolph Shelburne Cooperative School District will have a choice this year: Take a $1 or so tax rate cut for a year or have a stable tax rate over the next couple of years.

The issue stems from a five-year bond for school renovations, the majority of which was offset by state aid. Normally when the bond is paid off, the expense and revenue both end, but in this case the district was able to document work, mainly site preparation, for which the district is due an additional $540,000 from the state.

This is a one-time revenue without offsetting expense. What to do with that money led to several discussions on the part of the school board’s budget subcommittee and then by the full board.

When the bond was approved, the district had promised voters that while it was being paid, no money would be spent on building projects, and there wasn’t. But there are some things that need to be done. The plan had been to put $150,000 in the building and grounds capital reserve account each year, and the staff would present projects to the school board in line with that amount.

But now that $540,000 is available, the board contemplated two options: keep it all as revenue, which would result in a tax rate cut, or put some of it into building and grounds this year and none next year, which would stabilize the tax rate for that two-year period.

The board is still anticipating a tax rate drop with the second option, but it would be pennies, not dollars.

Divided school board

School board member Suzanne Demers argues it should all go back to the taxpayers.

“Taxpayers need a break,” she said.

She presented the board with a report showing that giving all the money back could result in a $2 tax rate cut, although she said she expected it would be closer to $1.

The bottom line of the proposed budget is down a little more than $400,000, but that is due to the bond payment no longer being in the budget. The budgets for the individual schools, Ed Fenn Elementary and Gorham Middle High School, are up a total of about $225,000.

The rest of the board felt it was better to try and stabilize that rate. They were concerned residents would find it more difficult the following year with the inevitable increase.

They recommend putting $350,000 into the building and grounds account this year and nothing next year.

There’s a separate article on the warrant asking voters to approve this. So this year, Gorham, Randolph and Shelburne voters will have a decision to make that is not just monetary, but one that also decides how they want to manage their money.

Gorham, a larger town than the other two, has had a larger number of property owners who have had difficulty keeping up with their taxes in the past. There are tax liens on a number of properties. On the town warrant, there’s an article asking residents to allow selectmen to sell property they take by tax deed.

Because of this situation, the article asking voters to put most of the state revenue in a capital reserve account, rather than be returned to taxpayers, is most likely to generate the most debate at the school meeting, which will be held Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Gorham Middle High School gym.


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