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RINDGE

Way out of 18-month budget found

Select Board member proposes option to rescind a 2012 warrant article

  • The Rindge Select Board met Monday morning to finalize the town warrant before Saturday's deliberative session.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • The Rindge Select Board met Monday morning to finalize the town warrant before Saturday's deliberative session.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • The Rindge Select Board met Monday morning to finalize the town warrant before Saturday's deliberative session.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • The Rindge Select Board met Monday morning to finalize the town warrant before Saturday's deliberative session.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

RINDGE — A plan to convert the town’s fiscal year to align it with that of the state’s has come at a price, one that town officials fear voters may find a bit too steep. So the Select Board has agreed to give them a way to opt out, one that would rescind a 2012 vote.

After notifying residents in early January that the town was locked into an 18-month budget for 2013-14, the Select Board said Monday that voters will have the option of choosing to keep the town’s calender year budget cycle and not move forward with the switch.

But staying with a 12-month budget and electing not to continue with the town’s fiscal year conversion would require Rindge to petition the Cheshire County Superior Court to hold a special Town Meeting this spring, in order to implement that budget.

Voters will cast their ballot either for or against the proposed 18-month, $5.4 million operating budget at the polls on March 12. But if voters approve a new warrant article to rescind a 2012 warrant article that enacted the fiscal year conversion, neither the 18-month budget nor the 18-month default budget of $5.5 million will apply. The town will instead need to put forth a 12-month budget as soon as possible after the March vote, according to town officials, and proceed with a special town meeting.

Rindge’s 18-month budget would start Jan. 1 and ends on June 30, 2014, when the town will resume budgeting for just 12 months per year.

At a special Select Board meeting Monday to finalize the town warrant, Select Board member Roberta Oeser proposed that the board give voters the option of retaining Rindge’s calender year budget cycle, rather than convert to the July 1 to June 30 fiscal year the state follows. “Most people, as well as the board, thought that the voters would have a choice this year [of a 12-month or 18-month budget],” Oeser said. “This warrant article would give that choice back to the people.”

The 2013 warrant article would rescind the 2012 warrant article, which asked voters, “Shall the town vote to change from a calendar year budget to an optional fiscal year budget (July 1 to June 30) and, in order to do so, bring forward an 18-month budget at next year’s Town Meeting?”

Because the 2012 article was approved by a 60 percent majority vote last March, the Select Board said, the change from a calendar to a fiscal year budget took effect. The board apologized to voters earlier this month, saying they were unaware until recently that the approval of the article locked them into an 18-month budget for 2013-14.

In March 2012, the town approved a $3.6 million budget, after having operated on default budgets between 2008 to 2011. The proposed 2013-14 operating budget accounts for 18 months of expenses and revenues and is approximately 1.5 times the 2012 budget. In order to spread out the foreseeable impact that the fiscal year conversion will have on taxpayers, the Select Board will put forth a warrant article to finance six additional months of expenses, or up to $1.5 million, with a bond. If voters reject the article, town officials said residents will pay a significantly larger property tax bill this December.

Select Board Chair Jed Brummer said Monday that he is strongly in favor of the fiscal year conversion that would realign the town’s budget cycle with the state’s fiscal year. Despite his support for the July 1 to June 30 fiscal calender, Brummer agreed with Oeser that giving voters the option to stick with the conversion or opt out is the right thing to do.

Select Board member Sam Seppala is traveling and was not in attendance at Monday’s meeting.

Resident Pat Martin said some residents were surprised that a one-time 18-month budget is required to change the town’s fiscal year. Deciding at the last minute not to move forward after so much time and energy has been invested into an 18-month budget does not make sense, she said.

But other residents in attendance Monday pointed out that the town could still approve the 18-month budget and choose not to rescind the 2012 warrant article. Residents Tim Halliday and Kim McCummings said maintaining an element of choice for voters is important.

“But on the other side, the town needs to do a good job of explaining to people what the financial impact [of those options] may be,” McCummins said.

The town’s deliberative session is scheduled for Saturday at 9 a.m. at the Rindge Memorial School.

Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228 or adandrea@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @alyssadandrea.

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