Allenstown voters push to overturn budget committee

  • Budget committee member Tiffany Ranfos participates in discussion during the town deliberative session on Saturday. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Selectman Jeff Gryval gives a budget presentation during the town deliberative session at the community center on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Donna Ong participates in discussion of the petition warrant article concerning tax abatements for property owners that rent to charter schools during the town deliberative session at the community center on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • An Allenstown resident refers to a 2017 budget overview packet during the town deliberative session at the community center on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Allenstown residents attend the town deliberative session at the community center on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

Monitor staff
Saturday, February 04, 2017

Residents in Allenstown overturned the town’s budget committee on Saturday, voting at the deliberative session of their school district’s annual meeting to return nearly $400,000 to the district’s operating budget warrant.

Revolting against a school board budget, that, including special warrants, was projected to require a $4.49 increase on the tax rate, the town’s budget committee voted to propose a $10 million budget instead of the school board’s $10,392,853 spending plan.

“We heard loud and clear from the school community – and that involves parents, that involves administrators, that involves the teachers – how frustrated they have been with level funded budgets,” school board Vice Chairwoman Kris Raymond told voters before detailing the board’s original spending proposal.

In a 48-32 vote, residents sided with the school board to amend the warrant to reflect the board’s budget plan and not the committee’s proposal. The default budget is $10,184,208.

Voters will also see a special warrant article to put $84,000 toward a school resource officer. It doesn’t have the budget committee’s endorsement either.

Selectman Jeff Gryval told voters the select board liked the idea of an SRO, but didn’t think the school board’s plan would work. The town doesn’t have anyone on staff that’s adequately trained, and the school can’t reimburse the town until the officer is actually at the school. That would mean the town would have to front-load all training costs, and likely wouldn’t get an officer at the school until May of 2018, he said.

“For the remainder of 2017, we would be picking up the cost for the salary, the uniforms, the benefits, for everything that goes along with that officer. And we just don’t have that in our budget,” Gryval said.

On the town side of things, voters on Saturday left alone the warrant for a proposed operating budget of $3,924,683 next year, up just $38,858 from what the town was budgeted to spend this year. The estimated increase on the tax rate would be 11 cents. The default budget is $3,953,626.

Selectman Jeff Gryval told voters the board had directed staff to link budget requests to the Consumer Price Index to keep the tax rate steady.

The spending plan doesn’t include any cost-of-living increases for staff, Gryval said, but it does include raises for some as the town tries to bring salaries up to par with what surrounding towns pay.

“(Our employees) are our most important commodity that we have in town. We have some really great people. And it costs so much to replace somebody that we thought it was important that we did everything we could to retain them,” he said.

Voters also heard from Hoyle, Tanner & Associates engineering firm Vice President Michael Trainque about a proposed $1.6 million sewer pump station.

The sewer station would eliminate the need for Allenstown to pump wastewater into Pembroke in a pipe underneath the Suncook River, and then back into Allenstown. The current arrangement means wastewater has to be metered multiple times, Trainque said, and requires Pembroke’s wastewater system to accomodate Allenstown’s flow.

“Also, that project would eliminate that river crossing. There’s a certain amount of liability there,” Trainque said. “There’s also suspicion that that’s a source, potentially, for some significant infiltration.”

Any loans or bonds attached to the project would be paid for with sewer rates, according to town budget documents.

Voters also heard about a petitioned warrant article that would grant tax abatements to private property owners who rent to charter schools. There is currently just one charter school housed in town, the PACE Career Academy, at the Suncook Business Park.

The select board isn’t recommending the warrant, and Gryval said that’s because they don’t know what it would mean it terms of lost revenue.

“We don’t really know the size of the facility they’re looking at or the tax impact that would be. In addition to that, the Allenstown taxpayers would be taking on an additional liability to service children outside of the district,” he said. “With limited input from the school, we didn’t think this was a reasonable thing to do.”

In an interview last month, PACE director Martin Castle told the Monitor the warrant had been put forward by the school at the request of their landlord.

Castle said Peter Sanborn had given the school a heavily discounted rent – about $2,500 per month for 5,000 square feet – for six years. The tax break was meant to help Sanborn continue renting that space to them without raising the rent, he said.

The second session of town meeting, when voters may vote on both town and school warrant articles as well as elect officers, will be March 14.