Barre school budget going up, but tax rate to go down
BARRE — The bottom line of the rejected budget proposal for Barre City Elementary and Middle School is going up, although the tax rate is expected to go down slightly, after the school board was hit with another six-figure surprise this week in the run-up to next month’s revote.
Board members acknowledged they have their work cut out for them during a discussion that was capped by their adoption of a $12,636,552 budget voters will be asked to approve May 13.
That’s roughly $100,000 more than the figure for the city’s pre-kindergarten-through-8 school that voters rejected on Town Meeting Day.
That wasn’t the plan.
Despite learning recently that school officials inadvertently omitted the final $100,000 bond payment for the school from the first version of the budget, board members entered Monday’s meeting expecting to make a small but detectable dent in the bottom line of the defeated proposal. Thanks to $136,291 in cuts recommended by their finance committee and a $9,546 credit associated with interest on the bond, the board was eyeing a net reduction of $45,837.
However, that plan went out the window faster than Business Manager Lynne Carpenter could say: “We’ve had some changes” Monday night.
Carpenter explained the board would have to add $144,748 in special education expenses to the budget.
The good news, according to her, is that the district can expect to receive $122,600 in state reimbursement for the previously unanticipated special education costs — limiting the net tax impact of the last-minute adjustment to $22,148.
The better news, she said, is that the local school tax rate would actually drop by a fraction of a cent if the budget is approved.
The bad news, board members agreed, is that voters won’t be able to glean that side of the story based on a cursory review of the question that will be on the May 13 ballot.
That was a source of frustration for some and outright concern for others — including one member who voted against the revised budget and another who audibly worried voters might do the same.
Board member Lester Felch, who cast the lone vote against the revised proposal, said the Legislature’s anticipated approval of a plan that would trim 3 cents off a previously proposed 7-cent increase in the statewide education tax rate was responsible for the projected rate reduction in Barre.
“The state did their job,” said Felch. “It doesn’t look like we did our job.”
Although board member Anita Chadderton supported the proposed budget, she too worried voters might not see past the unexpected spike in spending.
“I’m just afraid the voters are going to say no,” she said. “They’re not going to understand the tax rate is going down.”
Sonya Spaulding said she believed the board was putting forward a responsible budget.
“I would hope that the voters would actually look at the fact that their taxes are not going up,” said Spaulding, who is chairwoman of the board’s finance committee.
Spaulding had plenty of company on the board, although some members, like Jim Carrien, said that while they could talk about offsetting revenue and a slightly reduced tax rate, the ballot would simply show a number that was higher than the one voters already rejected.
Anita Ristau agreed.
“We’re going to have to do a lot of explaining to tell (voters) that the budget is higher … but the tax rate will go down,” she said. “(Because) you can’t say that on the ballot.”
Chairman Lucas Herring said the onus was on the board to educate voters in advance of next month’s revote.
“It should be our responsibility to be out there letting people know,” he said.
The board’s finance committee will hold an informational session on the budget in conjunction with its May 1 meeting. That meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. in the school library.
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