Taxpayer as Bottomless ATM

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.

table-tax-impact-fy2017

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.

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5 Comments

Filed under Sandown Issues

5 responses to “Taxpayer as Bottomless ATM

  1. Lee Dube

    Please don’t speak for me…”Our Budcom reps Lee Dube and Alan David, acting on our behalf, have agreed to 9.8% for the upcoming year.”. I have not agreed to anything as you have implied. The final BudCom recommendation vote has not been cast.

    • Really, Lee? It’s OK to put a budget out to the voters if you are going to personally vote against it? I would have thought that fighting to continue to reduce it would be the chosen method for the chairman of the budget committee…. or anyone on the budget committee. Cancelling the last meeting in which more cuts could have been discussed, or the effect on taxes, or even the revenue budget, was a disservice to taxpayers. So OK. Vote your conscience and vote against the budget in your recommendations and in doing so indicate that you want others to elect the default budget, which is higher than the budget your committee couldn’t whittle down. That sounds like a plan. I’m personally ashamed of the school board’s default budget and am doing everything in my power to address it. Donna

  2. Mark Acciard

    Arthur, It has been my experience that the SDBudCom NEVER knows the tax impact of the budget, nor cares. They rarely know what goes into even the largest line items in the budget. BY LAW, the district and SB are compelled to provide ANY information requested by the budcom. They do not ask. Dont get me wrong, there have been a few good members, and many many utterly useless members of the budcom over the years.

    There is no meaningful discussion of the budget, and under the law it is the budcoms budget being voted upon, not the district, yet they routinely abdicate to the Superintendent, the responsibility for preparing the budget. And to address the erstwhile Mr. Lee Dube, you are straddling the fencepost, and uncomfortable position in which to sit. You voted to pass the budget onto to the public hearing. the deliberation on the part of the budcom is done, you are presenting it to the voters for their deliberation. To say it is not final, as to absolve yourself of your responsibility in getting it this far, is nothing more than cowardly dishonesty. I am saying this as a former town budcom chair who has been there, done that.

    The unadulterated fact of the matter is that most years the budcom sits there like bobbleheads mindlessly nodding as they allow the superintendent to usurp their duty and authority to write the very budget he gets to spend. So much for checks and balances.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more, Mark. I’m afraid both our school board and our budcom are utterly useless. In fairness, it is hard for new budcom members to get their footing and most give up in frustration before gaining a grip on the issues. The fundamental problem is information control by the SAU and its enabling by the school board. This is a very entrenched problem in our district which is why I still believe Sandown would be much better served with its own school board and eventually a different SAU. Our default budget alone – higher than the proposed budget for the third year in a row – speaks volumes. People who are not afraid to stand up to the entrenched interests need to run for office. The district’s moderator position is open and has formerly been unopposed which is why we have a moderator who wears his prejudice on his sleeve like a badge of honor. Where are the citizens determined to put things right?
      Thank you for writing and Happy New Year!

  3. Pingback: You’re Welcome | timberlaneandsandown

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