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District divided over LGC refund

School Board votes to postpone decision; Select Board members say $639K should go back to towns

  • Renovations are under way at the ConVal High School parking lot, where lanes for buses and student drop-offs are being installed.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Renovations are under way at the ConVal High School parking lot, where lanes for buses and student drop-offs are being installed.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Renovations are under way at the ConVal High School parking lot, where lanes for buses and student drop-offs are being installed.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Renovations are under way at the ConVal High School parking lot, where lanes for buses and student drop-offs are being installed.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Renovations are under way at the ConVal High School parking lot, where lanes for buses and student drop-offs are being installed.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Renovations are under way at the ConVal High School parking lot, where lanes for buses and student drop-offs are being installed.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Renovations are under way at the ConVal High School parking lot, where lanes for buses and student drop-offs are being installed.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Renovations are under way at the ConVal High School parking lot, where lanes for buses and student drop-offs are being installed.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

PETERBOROUGH — The ConVal School Board voted Tuesday to put off a decision on what to do with a $638,966 Local Government Center refund, despite pleas from Select Board members from several ConVal towns, who said the money should be used to reduce tax rates.

But the board’s decision means the money is unlikely to be used this summer to pay for a complete repaving of the ConVal parking lot.

Board Chair Butch Estey opened the discussion of how to deal with the refund by noting that the Select Boards from Temple, Hancock and Peterborough had all sent letters to the board recommending that the money be used to reduce the tax rate. Board member Myron Steere of Greenfield said Greenfield’s Select Board was recommending that the money be returned and Sharon residents at the meeting said the Sharon board was also sending an email with the same recommendation.

“This is an area where we should take the advice of the Select Boards,” said board member Rich Cahoon of Antrim.

“We need to consider giving at least some of it back,” said Steere, recommending that at least half of the refund should be returned.”

Board member Matt Craig of Sharon disagreed, saying the board has a different obligation than the town Select Boards and needs to take the needs of the entire district into consideration.

The LGC has been ordered to repay the money from a 2010 surplus to its members. At recent board meetings, discussion has centered on whether some or all of the refund might be used to pay for the complete repaving of the ConVal High School parking lot. The low bid on that project came in at $864,844, although the School Board had set aside only $350,000 for the job. Both contractors who bid told the district that the lot would need to be completely torn up and a new base installed. ConVal’s facilities director, Tim Grossi, has said that complete reconstruction was not anticipated when bids were solicited.

As a result of the high bids, the board in July approved a two-phase construction process, with access lanes for buses and student drop-off, revamping of the apron in front of the high school, a new parking layout, designated crosswalks into the lot and walkways to the athletic fields and walkways to Route 202 to be built this summer. That work, for which the board approved $277,000 in July, is well under way and is expected to be completed before school starts.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, Business Administrator Marian Alese said it would be unlikely that the rest of the work could be done this summer unless the board were to decide quickly to use the LGC refund money.

At the start of the meeting, Alese said the district has already received a refund of $231,000 from the LGC for the 2011 surplus. Because that money was anticipated, she said, the Department of Revenue Administration requires it to be used to reduce taxes, and it will be included as anticipated revenue when the district assessment for 2013/2014 is calculated. She said the more recent refund of $638,966 could be treated as unanticipated revenue if the board wishes to. The board could take a check and then hold a public hearing on how to use the money or it could consider the check as revenue to reduce the tax rate, or it could use some of the money to reduce taxes. The other option would be to take the refund as a credit, which would allow the district to reduce expenses in the 2013-2014 budget and transfer the savings to other uses, including reducing taxes for 2014-2015.

School Superintendent Brendan Minnihan said it made sense to take the refund as a credit. He noted that the board is already planning to send back to the towns the $231,000 refund already received and $525,000 from the district’s fund balance in order to reduce taxes.

“My concern is that we mediate the impact if we take it as a credit,” he said. “You’d smooth it out over two years.”

Cahoon, who had made a motion at the board’s last meeting to accept a check and use all the money to offset the tax rate to the towns, said the money should go back this year. He likened it to having someone agree to make his car payment for a month.

“I don’t say no just because the following month it will feel like my payments are going up,” he said.

Craig Hicks of Peterborough, a former ConVal School Board chair who attended the meeting, said he’d rather see the money used on capital improvement projects, where the district could also get 55 cents on the dollar back from the state in building aid.

“It’s a false sense of security to give it back,” Hicks said. If the money is used to reduce taxes, he said, the board will struggle to find a way to keep the district assessments flat in future years.

Most of the others who commented said the money should be returned.

“If it’s a refund, it should go back to the people who paid it,” said Dave Dewitt of Dublin.

“This is a rebate that belongs to the taxpayers,” said board member Fiona Tibbetts of Dublin. “All the feedback I’m hearing is to give it back. I’d support giving the entire refund back, as soon as possible. It’s kind of a moral issue, really. … I don’t want to take the heat from people saying, ‘You took my money and fixed that parking lot.’”

Sharon Select Board member Carl Newton agreed with Tibbetts, “You’ll find a lot of unhappy people if you do a parking lot,” he told the board.

Select Board members John Jordan of Hancock and Gail Cromwell of Temple also urged the board to return the money.

But by a 4-3 vote, the board rejected Cahoon’s motion to take a check and return the money. Cahoon, Tibbetts and Pierce Rigrod of Hancock supported the motion. Craig, Steere, Stewart Brock of Francestown and Joel Green of Peterborough were opposed. Crista Salamy of Antrim abstained.

Following that vote, Steere moved that the board accept a refund check, but make a decision on how the money would be used at a later date. Steere said that would give the board time to discuss options. The board unanimously approved that motion.

On Wednesday, Alese said the request to the Local Government Center for a refund check should go out this week.

The district will actually be getting a check for $725,404, but $86,438 of that amount was paid in by retired former district employees for health or dental coverage. Alese said the district will reimburse those retirees once the refund payment is received.

She said the refunds are for a period when teachers and other employees were not contributing for their health or dental coverage, so no refunds will be made to employees.

Alese said the district will finish the parking lot safety improvement work that is already in progress, but the complete repaving will most likely have to wait until next year.

“I don’t see how we could do it before school starts,” she said.

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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