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Town says refund should go to voters

TEMPLE — The Select Board was in agreement Tuesday night at its meeting that $407,061 of a $638,966 refund the ConVal School District is expecting from the Local Government Center should be returned to the taxpayers, and not spent on parking lot improvements as was proposed at a recent School Board meeting.

The unexpected funds were a result of a $22.5 million refund the Local Government Center agreed to return to municipalities and school districts from contributions for 2011 insurance premiums. The ConVal School District is one of the recipients of the refund .

The ConVal School Board is set to vote at its next meeting on what to do with the unexpected surplus. At a July 16 School Board meeting, two of the options discussed were putting the money toward parking lot improvements that are currently under way, or returning the money to the taxpayers. During that meeting, a motion to return all of the funds to the taxpayers was made, but not voted on. Some board members opposed the motion, saying the money could be used to offset unanticipated expenses related to parking lot improvements at the ConVal High School.

In an interview Wednesday, Sharon School Board member Matt Craig said that the board right now is split between retaining all the money for unanticipated expenses, returning it all to taxpayers, or splitting the refund so that some is returned to taxpayers and some is kept for expenses . “I think at the next meeting we’re going to see that discussion and that debate,” said Craig. “I’m fairly sure it won’t be a unanimous vote either way. It’s all up in the air and we’ll have to see where it falls.”

The Temple Select Board agreed definitively that the money should be returned to the towns. Select Board member and former ConVal School Board member Gail Cromwell said that the scope of the parking lot project has increased significantly since it was first proposed, and the project should either be scaled back or paid for with money from the current school district budget. The project cost has jumped from $250,000 when it was initially proposed to $864,000 or even higher, she said. The additional cost has been attributed to an unanticipated need to replace the parking lot’s subgrade, as well as safety improvements, such as adding two bus lanes, curbs and sidewalks.

The safety improvements could have been addressed in a less costly way, Cromwell said. The majority of incidents in the school parking lot are fender benders that occur between student drivers, she said, and the buses have never had an incident, she said. She felt that clear painted lines would have been sufficient, instead of instituting curbing.

“You can do a lot with painting,” she said.

Cromwell added that along with the $250,000 that was originally budgeted to repave and improve lighting in the parking lot, an additional $100,000 was encumbered for the project from end-of the year funds. Plus, she said there is also approximately $350,000 in the Capital Reserve fund for maintenance, which the district could draw on. She said that between the funds raised in March, the Capital Reserves, and padding that is left in the general budget, the district could cover the cost of the parking lot within its budget should they need to. She would like to see the parking lot plan vetted and put to the voters, first, she added. The refund, she felt, should be used to lower the tax rate.

In March, the district anticipated receiving $231,906 as a return from the LGC, before the full refund was announced. Kieley said he’d like to see that amount used for district operation. The rest — ­­$407,061 — could be returned to the town, he said. “They were looking for a compromise,” said Kieley, referring to the School Board. “This may be it.”

“That’s on the table,” said Craig, when asked about splitting the money, but so are the other two options of returning it all or retaining it all. “I appreciate what the [Temple] Select Board is saying, and they have to look out for their individual town. In the same way, the School Board has to look out for the students of the whole district.”

On Wednesday, Kieley said, “The difference, rather than being spent on the project du jour, should be credited as income to the district and used to reduce the [tax] allocations to the towns. Don’t spend the [$407,061] on parking lots or whatever the project of the day is, but treat it as income. That’s what the voters approved [as part of the budget], and that’s what the School Board and SAU should do.”

The Select Board agreed to send a letter to all of the ConVal School Board members informing them of the town’s opinion.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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