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Plan calls for $430k of Derry school surplus to go to contingency fund

By RYAN LESSARD
Union Leader Correspondent

July 19. 2018 10:49AM




DERRY — Members of the Derry School Board presented the Town Council with a plan to save some of its district budget surplus to use in a contingency fund.

The meeting concluded positively after the council unanimously supported a plan setting aside about half of the unplanned revenue, which is more than $430,000. But during the meeting, things grew heated between Council Chairman Jim Morgan and school board member Dan McKenna.

The plan, after setting aside half the unspent funds, would result in a tax rate increase of 15 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The district originally planned for an increase of 53 cents. A higher-than-expected property valuation helped reduce the rate, plus the remaining half of unspent revenue will count as revenue in the next budget.

Money set aside in a contingency fund would help offset unexpected expenses in things like health care insurance or retirement payouts that can spike in certain years.

The plan was presented by board Chair Lynn Perkins and McKenna. At one point during the meeting, Morgan took issue with the size of the unspent funds.

“It’s over-budgeting,” Morgan said during the meeting. “The decision could have been not to raise $800,000 worth of taxes.”

He also pointed to an average of $3 million in excess revenues in the district between 2010 and 2017, though he conceded the board has done a good job lowering the amount of unspent funds in recent years.

McKenna defended what he viewed as an attack on the board’s budgeting process.

“I take issue when we’re accused of mismanaging of funds or not budgeting properly,” McKenna said.

He cited their auditor’s assessment that the size of the unspent funds are reasonable given the size of the overall budget.

“It’s not about finger-pointing, for me.” Morgan responded. “It’s about how do we do things smarter.”

At one point, apparently fearing the heated exchange could threaten planned joint discussions, Perkins interjected: “I would like to keep the door open so we can come back.”

After the meeting, McKenna said he appreciated the input of the council, adding that there’s a lot of things they can work on together in joint subcommittee meetings.

“What I bristled at last night was the idea that the numbers don’t add up or the numbers don’t make sense,” he said.

But he said the meeting was positive, overall.

Part of the problem with the excess revenues is the “optics,” as many council members put it during the meeting. Residents see projected high tax rates and grow outraged, even if those numbers are eventually lowered by revenues carried over from previous budget years.

In an interview, Morgan called the meeting “interesting,” but that a good dialogue has been established.

“I think this is a great start, and it’s a productive start,” Morgan said.

The two bodies will continue discussions on the school budget and how to stabilize tax rates with its first subcommittee meeting, which Morgan said he’s hoping to schedule for mid-August.

ldnews@unionleader.com


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