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Derry council, school board work together to stabilize taxes

By RYAN LESSARD
Union Leader Correspondent

September 14. 2018 10:31PM




DERRY — During a joint subcommittee meeting Thursday night, town councilors and school board members agreed to set aside “animosities” and work together to find ways to stabilize taxes.

A common theme throughout the meeting was the need to address the reduction in aid and downshifting costs from the state, something both sides agreed on.

Some new ideas for stabilizing taxes were also floated, such as letting the school district dip into an emergency fund from the town’s unassigned fund balance if they go under budget, and creating an accelerated retirement incentive program for teachers and district staff.

Council Chairman Jim Morgan said in his opening remarks that the issues that led to a spike in property taxes on the school side over the past couple of years are many, but the most important is money being “bled” from Derry by the state.

Morgan directly addressed the difficult relationship between the two bodies, particularly in recent months following a nonbinding referendum in March to absorb the school district as a town department. He said that he personally doesn’t think doing that is the answer.

“I would like to see the in-town finger-pointing end, I would like to see the mistrust end,” Morgan said.

School Board Chairman Lynn Perkins said he appreciated the movement toward cooperation “despite any animosities” that existed between the bodies.

School board member Michelle McKinnon said there are openings for the school fiscal committee, which helps in crafting the budget, and invited a member of the council to join.

School board member Dan McKenna gave a presentation about the budget process and addressed some of the specific ways they are losing aid from the state.

He said stabilization grants from the state are being reduced by about 4 percent each year, which means they get about $346,000 less each year.

Enrollment is currently down by 40 students, so that would also mean they may lose about $145,000 in per pupil adequacy aid, though that number is an estimate and enrollment may change.

State retirement requirements also mean the district has to pay an additional $88,000 in expenses even if there are no changes in salary.

Morgan agreed with McKenna that they should focus on the issues of state aid and retirement costs when trying to bring change through legislation.

There was talk of hiring a lobbyist to track legislative efforts and represent the town’s interests in the upcoming legislative session. A meeting with House representatives was tentatively scheduled for Nov. 15. Morgan said he hopes all the state elected officials are able to attend.

Morgan suggested possibly creating a memorandum of understanding between the governing bodies that allows the district to access unassigned town funds whenever there’s an unplanned deficit. In theory, the district wouldn’t have to raise as much money up front, and it could pay the town back later with future taxes.

“That would be a huge collaborative effort,” Morgan said.

Town Administrator Dave Caron said they would need to do more research and discuss it with the state Department of Revenue Administration to see how such an arrangement would work. It’s easier to do if you’re a city, he said.


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