OSSIPEE – A judge has ruled the town of Ossipee must pay its $8.59 million share of the funds needed to operate the Governor Wentworth Regional School District on the timetable set by the school not by the selectmen.
In June 2019, the selectmen decided that Ossipee would no longer adhere to the payment schedule established by the school board, that ranged from a high of $1,606,570 in July to a low of $111,332 in September, but instead would send equal monthly payments over the course of a year.
The district filed suit in Carroll County Superior Court on Nov. 1 asserting that Selectmen Sandra “Sam” Martin, Martha Eldridge and Susan Simpson had refused to make Ossipee’s payment to the school district’s treasurer for the operation of the public schools in violation of a 1927 state law.
The school district has requested Ossipee abide by the district’s billing schedule.
The town’s attorney, Rick Sager, denied the selectmen have ever refused to make a payment and instead had authorized equal payments of $716,000 a month. Selectmen argued that the town had no input into the payments schedule that was set by the school district based on its internal calculations and choice of timing for bond payments and other financial obligations.
In response to the suit, Sager maintained that the payments made by Ossipee were both consistent and predictable, asserting that the school district’s budget over the fiscal year should be reflective of that principal.
In a four-page ruling issued Feb. 3, Judge Amy Ignatius found that while the town’s rationale for its payments was not unreasonable, she held that Ossipee had no right to such a payment schedule.
In her analysis, Ignatius said that Ossipee presented an alternative schedule for payment that would satisfy all obligations over a 12-month period, even though particular bills would be underpaid or overpaid from month to month.
There is no dispute regarding the obligation of Ossipee to pay its fair share of school maintenance costs, nor is there any dispute regarding the amounts billed, the total allocated to Ossipee, or the district’s authority to send invoices in the way it does, the judge wrote.
The only disagreement was whether Ossipee had the right to make payments in equal monthly installments rather than paying the particular amounts each month.
The school district’s attorney, Attorney Barbara Loughman of Wolfeboro, argued during a Dec. 6 hearing that the district needed to receive payment for the full amount billed in order to meet its obligations. The school district, Loughman noted, is limited in its ability by statute to hold funds in reserve.
The town argued that it too was constrained by the availability of revenues to make payments. Because the bond payments are due at the start of the fiscal year, when many Ossipee residents have not yet made their tax payments, that causes the municipality to be strapped in making the very large summer payment to the district, the town argued.
Sager said Friday that the dispute shows the need for the Legislature to change the law mandating selectmen to “pay over to the district treasurer as the school board shall require” for the maintenance of the schools.
He had not yet met with selectmen concerning the ruling and as a result was unable to say whether they plan to appeal.