Returning portion of LGC refund is right thing to do

When you start an improvement project, whether it’s replacing some shingles on the roof or repaving the driveway, there’s no guarantee things will go the way you expect, nor can you predict exactly how much it will cost. That’s the pickle the ConVal School District is in with regard to the work now in progress at ConVal High School’s parking lot. And there’s been some discussion about using a $638,966 Local Government Center refund to cover some of the unanticipated costs.

What was to be about a $350,000 project is now up to $864,000, in part because it’s been discovered that the subgrade beneath the asphalt needs replacing. But the project has also gotten more complicated. As School Board member Rich Cahoon of Antrim pointed out at a recent meeting, the final scope of the project was settled upon after the board had already decided how much it wanted to spend. At its July 16 meeting, the board approved spending $277,954 for demolition and installation of base materials, pavement, sidewalks and curb, as well as electrical conduit, light pole bases and loam. But that’s just phase one.

The overall goal is a worthy one. The School Board wants to make the parking lot safer, and to that end the grand design calls for separate lanes for buses, vehicles dropping off students and pedestrians. The problem is how to pay for it all.

At a board meeting in June, School Board members asked about scaling back the project. That may be part of the solution to this conundrum. Using the LGC refund money, without voter approval, is less desirable.

That money was raised through taxation for a specific purpose: 2011 health care and liability insurance premiums. The state has ordered the LGC to return part of that money to towns and school districts, saying the surplus fund balance the LGC was hanging onto was too high. By rights, that money should be returned to voters or, at the very least, voters should be given the chance to weigh in on how it’s spent.

The Temple Select Board has said part of the rebate that was unanticipated, $407,061, should be returned to voters, which seems like a fair compromise. Select Board member Stewart Brock of Francestown voiced a similar sentiment at the July 16 School Board meeting. He opposed a motion to return all of the money to taxpayers, but agreed that at least some of it should be returned. “The state passes a lot down that’s unfunded, and we have to do partly the right thing, which is give it back,” he said. “It gives good faith back to the town.”

The ConVal School Board has a meeting scheduled for Tuesday night at 6 p.m. at the SAU office, and the LGC refund issue is on the agenda. We’ll be anxious to learn how they manage the issue, and what input they consider from the public.

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