School costs top topic at meeting
by Mike Eldred
Mar 08, 2014 | 3352 views | 0 0 comments | 50 50 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WHITINGHAM- Voters decided to leave school spending to the school board, and denied a tax exemption to a local nonprofit club at Tuesday’s Town Meeting.

After a thorough discussion of Article 2, the town voted to pass over the question. The article would have directed the school board to divide the $120,000 user fee paid by the town for school security ($60,000), Wings ($10,000), and maintenance of the athletic fields and school property ($50,000).

Board member Greg Brown explained that the town has been paying the user fee for several years, and that the practice was developed as a legal way to reduce the impact of Act 68 and avoid the excess spending penalty. Under state statute, the money is counted as school revenue, and not included in the excess spending calculation.

When school board members suggested that law enforcement for school security was a town responsibility, Brown said, selectboard members decided to offer voters the opportunity to discuss the town’s obligations to the school.

“Voters don’t have much control over school budgets,” said Brown. “This gives us some control.”

“So if we vote for this, it means we don’t need to vote for the school resource officer that’s on the ballot?” asked voter Sherry Adams.

“That’s right,” said Brown.

But school board chair Seth Boyd had a different take on the article. He said the user fee was figured into the regular budget, and not earmarked to pay for certain expenses. Although the fee is ostensibly to compensate the school district for the town’s use of the athletic fields and building for recreation, events, and meetings, the value to local taxpayers is that it reduces the overall tax rate.

Voter Wayne Corse offered the motion to pass over the article. “I think we have five fiscally conservative school board members here,” he said. “Why don’t we pass over this article and leave it up to them to decide the best use of the money?”

Voters approved the general fund expenditure of $692,788 under Article 3, and the highway department’s budget of $1,320,151 under Article 7.

Voters passed Article 11, to raise and appropriate $14,500 for Deerfield Valley Rescue, but not without some discussion. Corse expressed dismay that, after the recent dissolution of the Whitingham Ambulance Service, the service’s remaining funds were split evenly between the Halifax Fireman’s Association and the Whitingham Fireman’s Association. “Back in the 1960s, it was Whitingham residents who put their own money in to start the ambulance service,” Corse said. When the service was expanded to include Halifax, Corse said, Halifax residents weren’t asked to contribute funds.

Fire chief Stan Janovsky said there had been an air of resentment brewing between members from the two towns before the dissolution. When Halifax members became a majority on the ambulance service’s board of directors, he said Whitingham members and their concerns were edged out.

Corse said he supports Deerfield Valley Rescue, and even had the opportunity to “enjoy” a ride in an ambulance shortly after Deerfield Valley Rescue absorbed Whitingham Ambulance Service. But after inquiring about the amount that Halifax was paying toward Deerfield Valley Rescue, he suggested that Halifax should pay a greater share.

Voters passed a library budget of $73,531under Article 9, and in Article 26 authorized the library to spend grant money at the discretion of the library board and director. When asked if there were any projects scheduled for this year, librarian Kristine Sweeter said there was a significant renovation planned, which would include refinishing of the library’s built-in bookcases, new flooring, and other improvements. She said about $10,000 of work was planned, all of it paid for by donations.

Voters denied a request by the Deerfield Valley Sportsmen’s Club for a 10-year property tax exemption on their Whitingham property. Brad Lackey and Deb Cox explained that the club is a nonprofit, and must engage in significant fundraising to pay their tax bill each year. Some of the club’s activities are educational, they said, such as hunter safety courses and gun safety courses.

But selectboard member Greg Brown said he was concerned about setting a precedent that might be followed by other nonprofit entities in town. One voter, noting that the organization was a private club, asked if everyone in Whitingham would get a free membership. The measure failed in a paper ballot, with 43 against and 22 in favor of granting the tax exemption.

In the town’s only contested race, selectboard chair Keith Bronson retained is seat with 114 votes to challenger Dwight Williams’ 54 votes. The Twin Valley school budget passed 94 to 72, but voters declined to approve funding for a school resource officer with 112 voting ‘no’ and 55 voting in favor.
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