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School Board and Town Council
Meet to Discuss Budget Increase
By: David Deschesne
Fort Fairfield Journal, May 16, 2012
FORT FAIRFIELD—The Fort Fairfield town council recently attended the S.A.D. #20 school board meeting to discuss their proposed $68,000 increased funding request for the school’s fiscal year 2012-2013.
The unprecedented visit was planned and agreed to by both boards to help the town council understand why the additional monies were being requested, and if there was any way to alleviate or otherwise compromise on the increase.
S.A.D. #20 Superintendent Marc Gendron noted that in the last four years, the school board has cut $369,805 from its budget and has eliminated 20 positions over the past twelve years.
While the town of Fort Fairfield’s mil rate has remained stagnant, overall property valuation has increased by 19.6% over the past five years; paradoxically increasing the amount of revenue coming into the town’s coffers while council members able to truthfully claim they have not increased taxes (the mil rate). During that same time period, local mils raised for the school decreased by 9.85%.
“Our current budget proposal is our best effort to meet the needs of our students for the least total cost possible,” said Gendron. “The school board of SAD #20 have voted unanimously to move forward with this budget, but the citizens of Fort Fairfield will have the final say on whether this budget is approved at the district budget hearing on May 17 at 6:30 at the Fort Fairfield Middle High School.
The primary discussion on the school’s proposed $6.2 million budget was the use of a $275,000 carryover.
A carryover is money that is expected to be left over at the end of the fiscal year after all bills are paid. Functioning as a quasi-emergency surplus, the carryover is composed of both savings from expending less money than budgeted in that year, as well as savings accrued from previous years. It is then used to cover any unforeseen emergency expenses. The unused carryover money is then “carried over” to the following year’s budget and built into the estimated carryover amount for that year.
SAD #20 is currently budgeting $6.2 million for operating expenses in ’12-’13, they will have an estimated carryover of around $300,000. Of that amount, $100,000 is savings that was put away years ago for emergencies and can only be accessed by a vote of the town citizens; $80,000 is money that has been set aside to help purchase new busses in the future; the balance is anticipated savings and the increase of $68,000 from the town’s contribution.
A few years ago the school budget featured an $800,000 carryover, which has been reduced to around $300,000 this coming fiscal year. “Using up carryover money was an issue that we were using to mitigate any kind of increase in taxes. Going from $837,000 down to $300,000 the extra reserves are essentially depleted. We don't want to cut it too close or we'll have trouble making payroll this summer,” said Gendron. Carryover is gone I can't just say we can help [the town] out, we can just use up more of the carryover, because essentially that well is dry. It's the same year that obviously the town has some extra challenges that weren't expected, also.”
Kim Murchison, chairperson of the Fort Fairfield Town Council said to the school board at their meeting, “Right now we have to raise the mil rate in order to cover the $68,000 you're asking for. This is fine, but we have to answer to the citizens of Fort Fairfield. They want to know exactly what it is that your needs are and why you can justify the $68,000.”
Fort Fairfield town council member, Terry Greenier echoed Murchison's sentiments; “It's going to be a lot easier for us if we know exactly what the additional money is going to.”
“This year's budget I have a $6.2 million budget. We're going to spend roughly 5.9 million so we'll have about $310,000 left over. This coming year, I'm estimating $275,000,” said Gendron.
“Really, to Kim's question, you want the $68,000 to not necessarily cover expenses, but to increase your surplus that will then be used for future years,” said Fort Fairfield town manager, Dan Foster. To which Gendron responded, “That is correct.”
“This is certainly a different method of doing a budget than I'm ever used to,” said Greenier. “I had never heard of taking something that's in a pot and factoring it into next year's budget...as income.”
Gendron emphasized the point of the complimentary roles of a School Administrative District and a town council. “We have one board that directs the district, you have another board that directs the town. It's in the interests of both of them to have a very strong, healthy, robust school system- which we're doing the best we can - and it's also in the interest of everyone to have a tax base that's reasonable, does not drain and does not hurt the overall quality of life in our town. This is a balance issue, where those two come together right now is at the school budget hearing. At the budget hearing, we present our budget and that's an opportunity for the town to make an argument for or against that budget. At that budget hearing, if the budget is voted down, that the school board did approve last month, then we start from scratch, we go back, create a new budget, go back to the board then present it to the town budget meeting.”
“The meeting between the town council and the school board was one of information; trying to understand if the requested increase was a need or a want,” said Foster, after the meeting. “I think it was clear that the increase to the taxpayers will allow the school to increase their much reduced surplus. Our concern with the loss of ACP and the resulting mil rate increase was is this really necessary right now? They fervently believe that it is. We asked the question, they heard us and have decided to stay the course.”
Foster said the last thing that either he or the Town Council are interested in doing is to create divisiveness between the town and the school. “It is not who we are as a community and working through differing points of view in a collaborative and proactive manner is critical to maintaining a viable and respected community environment. I respect Marc Gendron, I think he is doing a commendable job under trying circumstances. I think that the school board believes him when he says this is necessary.”
The school budget hearing is scheduled for May 17, 6:30 p.m. at the Fort Fairfield Middle/High School.