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Judge details reasons for dismissing petition on ConVal default budget

“Not ripe for judicial review” was the reason cited by Hillsborough Superior Court Judge Kenneth Brown when he dismissed a petition filed by former ConVal School Board member Gail Cromwell of Temple last week.

Cromwell had argued that the ConVal administration erroneously calculated the default budget number that will appear on the March 12 ballot and asked that the default budget be amended and new ballots printed.

On March 5, Brown dismissed Cromwell’s request for a declaratory judgement in a ruling from the bench. In a written order dated March 7, Brown agreed with the response from the school district’s lawyer, Dean Eggert, who had said the matter was inappropriate for review because voters hadn’t taken action to review the budget and that even if a default budget is adopted as a result of the vote, the district has the authority to call a special meeting to amend the default budget prior to its submittal to the N.H. Department of Revenue Administration.

Quoting from a 1967 case, Brown wrote, “the basic rationale of the ripeness doctrine is ‘to prevent the courts, through avoidance of premature adjudication, from entangling themselves in abstract disagreements of administrative policies...until an administrative decision has been formalized and its effects felt in a concrete way by the challenging parties.” He said the proposed default budget does not represent the final decision of the legislative body and noted that if the proposed budget passes, the default budget will never have legal effect.

“Since the issue at this stage is an abstraction, judicial resolution would be inappropriate,” Brown wrote.

He also said Cromwell had alternative methods of enacting the changes she was seeking, including participating in public hearings on the default budget.

Cromwell said Monday that she had attempted to bring up her questions about the default budget at School Board meetings and got little response.

She also said she disagreed with Brown’s statement that final approval of a default budget would come from the Department of Revenue Administration.

“The judge seems to think the DRA would approve it. They don’t. It’s all done by the School Board,” she said.

Cromwell said she was waiting to see whether the proposed budget passes before deciding whether to appeal the ruling on the petition.

“We’re in limbo on this now,” she said.

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