Guest Contribution by Arthur Green with D. Green
We are frequently reminded at this time of year by those who don’t want to face the truth that it is far too soon to begin discussing the tax impact of the freshly minted Timberlane budget for next year. So, let’s do it.
Here’s the bad news – and it’s bad. The bill Timberlane will send to towns in October 2017 will be up a stunning 7.9% district wide. Each town, of course, will have its own specific impact as you can see below.
There are lots of caveats and qualifications to these numbers which you can read at the bottom of this post but, even though these figures are preliminary, it is still meaningful – even critical – to discuss the tax impact now.
The 2017/18 budget voted by Timberlane’s budget committee represents a planning baseline with a specific set of assumptions. By approving the proposed budget to move forward to public hearing, Budcom is saying that, with the best information we have today, they are willing to endorse and recommend this as an appropriate financial commitment for our communities – an (average) 7.9% district-wide tax increase in the coming year.
Members of Budcom may say in response that they did not know the tax impacts of their recommendation. Well, shame on them. They need to be held accountable for not insisting on having that information for their deliberation. The information already available to the budget committee as of their last deliberation on Dec. 8 is sufficient to estimate the tax impact, obviously, because I’ve done it for a few years running.
Apart from tax impact, there are other critical pieces of information your budget committee representatives did not consider necessary to demand before rushing pell-mell to approve the 2017/18 budget:
- Forecast of enrollment by professional outside consulting organization (NESDEC), available at no charge to the district
- Detailed staffing information – requested by Budcom, but not delivered by the administration. Budcom request vanished without a trace or a protest.
- Revenue budget, required to evaluate the tax impact of the proposed budget – provided by the administration at the final budcom meeting, but not discussed until after approval of the proposed budget (watch the meeting).
- Meaningful deliberation of the complete budget proposal.. The Draft 1 proposal presented Nov. 22 had so many acknowledged (by the administration) holdover items which needed to be removed that there was no substantive discussion. The draft which was deliberated at the next (and final) meeting on Dec 8 had been posted to the district website the day prior, so there was virtually no opportunity for a Budcom member (or member of the public) to do detailed line item analysis. The actual deliberation occupied less than 2 hours on Dec. 8, and removed a pitiful $27,000 of travel and conference expenses from the $71.5 million budget before voting to move it to public hearing.
Sandown taxpayers have just had to swallow a 9.1% (average) increase in the education portion of our property tax bills. Our Budcom reps Lee Dube and Alan David, acting on our behalf, have agreed to 9.8% for the upcoming year.
How much is enough? Do we even need to ask?
Caveats and Qualifications – much can, and will, change
As usual, I do not deal with the property tax rates ($ per thousand). These rates fluctuate for many reasons. But if the apportionment bill from the school district to the town goes up from $10 million to $11 million, then the town tax collector will need to get 10% more money from each property taxpayer (on average).
The budget impact I have calculated above does not include warrant articles, the principal one being the support workers collective agreement. If approved by voters, this would add to the budget and its tax impact. Other warrant article items could emerge from the school board, as well.
The preliminary amount of the education Adequacy grant from the state is documented on a spreadsheet on the Department of Education website. The grant will be based on the Average Daily Membership figures for the current (2016/17) year, but these will not be final until fall 2017, so the grant figures are based on a forecast of what the ADM will be. My personal opinion is that the grant for Sandown will be lower than currently forecast (by the state), and the grants for the other 3 towns will be higher.
The biggest single swing factor affecting our tax burden is the amount of surplus created by underspending the current year (2016/17) budget. Timberlane’s surplus will become revenue (partially offsetting taxes) in the budget year (2017/18). The TRSD revenue budget for 2017/18 shows a $1,925,000 surplus carried forward from the year we are in now. However, for the last 2 years the surplus has been about $3 million. An extra million dollars of surplus would somewhat mitigate the tax increases. For example, with $3 million in surplus instead of $1.9 million, the Sandown tax increase could be under 6% instead of 9.8%.
There are lots factors still unknown at this point, but what you should remember when next you vote, is that Timberlane’s budget committee thought a 7.8% district-wide tax increase was a reasonable burden to impose on you- without even caring to know it.