After lawsuit, time to move ahead

It’s taken three years and a trip to Superior Court, but the town of Wilton is finally going to collect $141,494 that should have been charged to Lyndeborough taxpayers back in 2010.

The error came about when the Department of Revenue Administration made a mistake in setting the tax rates for the two towns, who formed a cooperative school district back in 1967. Under the school district’s Articles of Agreement, capital improvement costs for the two elementary schools are to be paid by the residents of the town where the school is located. Those costs weren’t calculated correctly in 2010 — a fact that no one disputes — and as a result Wilton overpaid. The error wasn’t discovered until a year later, at which time Lyndeborough officials said it was too late for Wilton to challenge the tax rate numbers.

Select Board members and lawyers from both towns held meetings on the issue and about a year ago, after Lyndeborough board members said there was no legal mechanism for them to simply repay their neighboring town, Wilton filed suit. Now, Lyndeborough has been ordered to make reimbursement, and town officials say they have no plans to appeal the ruling. They aren’t sure how quickly they can pay up, since they plan to ask voters to approve using fund balance money at Town Meeting. But it seems clear that Wilton will eventually get its money.

It’s great to see this issue cleared up before voters in the two towns come together for District Meeting on March 7.

This year, they’ll be asked to approve major changes in the way their School District operates. School Board members are urging support for a plan to move all the students in grades one to five to Florence Rideout Elementary School in Wilton. That would leave just preschoolers and kindergarten at Lyndeborough Consolidated School, and the rest of the building would become the new home for the SAU 63 office. To do this requires approval of changes to the district’s Articles of Agreement, including one that would have future capital expenses shared by both towns, on a formula based half on attendance and half on equalized property values.

The debate at District Meeting may pit Lyndeborough residents against their neighbors in Wilton. Given the connections that people establish to their hometown schools, it’s likely to be emotional and perhaps heated. But fortunately, the lingering question of that relatively minor bookkeeping error should no longer be part of the discussion. Voters will have far more important issues to consider as they weigh in on what’s perhaps the most significant change since the Wilton-Lyndeborough School District was created.

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