WLC voters OK extra state aid funds for budget overage

  • Residents at the Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative special district meeting approved using state funds to pay for budget overages. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • Residents at the Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative special district meeting approved using state funds to pay for budget overages. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Residents at the Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative special district meeting approved using state funds to pay for budget overages. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 11/9/2019 2:22:13 PM

With a difference of only 13 votes, the district approved using additional state funding to pay for budget overages, during a special district meeting on Saturday.

In a secret ballot vote, Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative School District voters gave the OK to use $184,811 coming to the district from the state’s adequacy aid grant to fund a budget shortfall, rather than use it to lower the tax rate for the two towns.

The vote was narrow, with 87 voting yes and 74 voting no.

The state legislature approved additional adequacy aid to school districts in September, when it passed the state’s two-year budget, with the intention of lower property tax rates.

According to the district, the funds, after being split between the two towns would have reduced Wilton’s tax rate by about 32 cents, and Lyndeborough by about 36 cents per $1,000 of value. For the average home value in Lyndeborough, that would be an annual reduction of $82.16 for Lyndeborough and $76.17 for the average home in Wilton.

Instead, it will be used to offset a $305,663 budget overage, which was mostly caused by salaries and benefits increases caused by hires which occurred after the district approved its budget in March.

The district plans to make up the remainder of the shortfall with cuts to areas such as delaying purchases of replacement technology and furniture, purchasing new laboratory equipment, adding security cameras to the exterior of the high school, professional development for staff, replacement of books in the school libraries and classrooms, and installing sprinklers on the athletic fields.

The split nature of the vote was reflected by residents who spoke.

Former School Board member Fran Bujak of Lyndeborough noted that if the district had known of the staff expenses prior to March, the district likely would have approved the budget, and then gotten some relief from the extra state aid – putting them in exactly the same position the district is in now.

“The net change would be zero,” Bujak said.

Don Anderson of Lyndeborough said the school’s budget was already high, and said the handling of the current budget didn’t inspire confidence in him.

“If they can’t stay within the budget approved at the school meeting, what makes us think they can control it now?” Anderson said.

Moving forward

With the warrant article approved, the district said it plans to make changes to address the overage issue, including doing an additional audit, which will be overseen by the School Board.

Additionally, the $184,811 will be kept within a separate line item in the budget, and the School Board will have to approve any expenditures from that line, explained School Board Chair Matt Ballou. Any funds left over at the end of the year will be used for tax relief. The board will receive monthly reports on the use of the funds, which will be publicly available.

The district also plans to change its accounting practices, to better track spending. The School Board committed to not having any line item transfers for the next two years, so the district can clearly see where it is spending its money.

Several residents said that would be a good practice, and questioned why the district wouldn’t make that a permanent practice, with one resident even suggesting it be added to the warrant article for meeting approval.

Budget Committee Chair Leslie Brown said she would support that, but thought it would be a good idea to at least try it and see if there were any drawbacks to the process. The district’s attorney also said that while the School Board was free to make a commitment not to make any line item transfers, they do have the power under state law to make those transfers, and the voters can’t legally restrict that, other than to hold the board accountable to their commitments at the ballot box.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7171 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @Ashley SaariMLT.


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