told it didn't cut enough
Many at hearing say
school rate is too high; more cuts needed
By GREG KWASNIK
Union Leader Correspondent
GOFFSTOWN – The Goffstown Budget Committee recently cut more than $1.6 million from next year’s municipal and school budgets, but residents who spoke out at a public hearing on Wednesday said that the cuts didn't go deep enough.
Many who spoke at the budget hearing said they were particularly upset by the school tax rate, which under the proposed school budget would go up by $2.83 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
“We are not free people anymore. We are, in my estimation, slaves to our government, local government and schools,” said Enid Mackenzie, a Budget Committee member who spoke as a Goffstown resident. “Not exactly what our founding fathers had in mind for us.”
Another resident suggested that the committee take a lesson from his own family.
“I know in my household we’ve had to actually do something really drastic – it’s called cutting back,” said David Bunton. “I don’t really see this in this budget.”
Overall, the Budget Committee cut more than $691,000 from the School Board’s $36.6 million budget request. On the municipal side, the committee’s $19.2 million town operating budget is $973,000 less than the Board of Selectmen’s request.
For the majority of the residents who took to the microphone at the hearing, the cuts – particularly those to the school budget – were not enough. One resident questioned the budget process itself, in which the Budget Committee uses the School Board’s budget request as a starting point in its deliberations.
“Isn’t that like letting the fox watch the henhouse door?” asked John Burt, owner of Burt’s Signs on Bay Street. “What if they came in and said we want our budget to be $500,000,000?”
Several voices in the audience – which Budget Committee Chairman Dan Cloutier said was four to five times its usual size - tried to defend the school tax increase.
School Board member Phillip Kendall explained that the increase is deceptive, since the school district gave the town $2 million in unexpected stimulus revenues and $1.3 million in budget savings last year – a move that actually lowered the tax rate.
“If you took that $2 million windfall out of there, that separation would be a lot less,” Kendall said. “When you’re looking at the percent increase, it’s a little bit misleading.”
Some residents also questioned why the town and the school board aren’t trying to get out of multi-year contracts with its unions.
School Board Chairman Keith Allard responded that the town has a legal responsibility to uphold the contracts, but said that the board may ask its unions to make some voluntary concessions.
“Other towns and other school districts have brought up that subject and there have been very few concessions on the other part,” Allard said. “So I don’t know how successful we’d be in those types of negotiations.”
Fewer residents contested the town side of the budget. The town’s proposed $19.2 million operating budget would increase the tax rate by eight cents on every $1,000 of assessed property value, or $21 on a $260,000 home.
Board of Selectmen Chairman Scott Gross did ask the Budget Committee to reconsider some of its cuts. Gross said the majority of the $973,000 in budget cuts would hit the town's Capital Improvements Fund, which finances necessary road repairs.
“What are our risks if we do not commit to maintaining our road program?”
Gross asked. “A $700,000 reduction this year may cost us $1 million next year and ultimately it’s going to catch up with you.”
Voters will have a month to study the proposed budget before the deliberative budget session on February 3 at Goffstown High School.