WLC’s budget shortfall impacts town’s ability to set tax rates

  • The Wilton Select Board met with Superintendent Bryan Lane during its meeting Monday to discuss the school's budget shortfall and how it's impacted the town's ability to set its tax rate. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript...

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 11/6/2019 2:06:07 PM

The Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative School District’s upcoming special school district meeting to deal with a budget overage has delayed the setting of Wilton’s tax rate, much to the consternation of the Select Board.

Selectman Matt Fish pressed school district superintendent Bryan Lane to account for the budget overage at Monday night’s board meeting.

“I’m sure you’re pretty aware that the community is just absolutely outraged of this entire process,” Fish said. “When I look at these numbers, it just seems a comedy of errors of things that should have been escrowed, budget holes that should have been identified, funds that should have been anticipated, just a whole ball of wax that came up to this.”

Lane told the board he’s aware of the issues caused by the late setting of the district’s tax rate, and that the district is prepared to submit their tax documents as soon as the district meeting has concluded.

“The issue for us, is normally the tax rate is set as soon as practicable to Oct. 1. That’s the first date the tax rate can be set,” Select Board chair Kermit Williams said.

Residents have 30 days to pay their bill from their issuance, Williams said, and the town is concerned payments won’t come in quickly enough to cover the town’s bills unless the board is able to send them out shortly.

Lane said if the town needs to delay their expected December school payment due to cash flow issues, the district could accommodate that.

The district has not been able to determine it’s own portion of the tax rate, and will not be able to until after Saturday when the district is scheduled to hold a special district meeting, Lane said.

The district has run over budget this year and plans to ask voters on Saturday to approve the use of additional state aid – $287,071 intended for property tax relief – to pay for the overages caused by unanticipated special education needs, retirement packages, and items that weren’t budgeted for last year. The $287,071 is expected to come from additional state education grants and special education aid allocated in the state budget, which was passed in late September.

“If the voters do vote yes, they will not see that tax relief, but they will also not see their taxes raised more than they would have with the approved budget,” Lane said.

Lane said the majority of the overage was due to additional special education students who entered the district after the budget was set, which required additional staffing, and changes and additions to the staff’s insurance plans, which also occurred after the budget was finalized.

“So, in looking at it, 90-some-odd percent of what happened as far as a problem to create the issue, all occurred after the budget was created and voted on in March,” Lane said. “I’m not making excuses that this is a good thing, I am not happy about it as much as anyone else.”

Lane admitted there were some aspects that simply were not budgeted, including the cost of screening kindergartners, the extended summer program and summer custodial work. He said he could offer no explanation for why they were not included.

“There were things that were mistakes and there’s no doubt about that,” Lane said. “In the documents that I’ve created, there are several budget errors that I’ve put in there, things that should have happened that did not.”

Another issue was that staff retirement packages weren’t accounted for in the budget, though Lane said historically, they never have been, and usually, the retirement payouts are paid for by replacing retiring teachers with newer teachers who are on a lower pay scale. This year was extraordinary in that additional staff had to be hired for special education requirements that weren’t accounted for in the budget, Lane said.

Lane assured the board that the School Board was taking steps to ensure a shortage doesn’t happen again, including considering an additional audit. In the future, Lane said, the district plans to budget the cost of retirement packages. The district has also committed to not making any line item transfers – taking funds from an underspent budget to cover an overspent one – to get a better sense of what the actual costs are and where the budget is falling short.

If voters say no on Saturday, Lane said the district has already reviewed areas in the budget where there are savings, but even operating on a bare-bones model, there would be the need to cut about $45,000 from the budget, which could impact student programming or supplies.

The Special District Meeting is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 9, at 9 a.m. at the Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative Middle/High School.

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


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